“…the interest is preserving firearms on the internet” (Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed)

gun parts printed from plastic
gun parts printed from plastic

A plastic gun can now be printed with machines that make molds from digital designs. Anyone can download the design, and over 50,000 people already have. With the design, everyone (including teenagers) can attain a gun without a permit and outside of the law.

Yes, the guns work. They’re not any great feat of intelligence: the mastermind behind it, Cody Wilson (a law student from Texas), merely entered the 3D designs for gun parts into a computer and had them printed (molded) using pre-existing computer and plastic-printing technology. He poses as a radical spokesperson for anarchy and the “reversibility” of progress, and spews partially digested bits of French philosopher, Michel Foucault, but all he really did was take the initiative to actually produce plastic gun parts and tinker with the process to get them to work. Ironically, the technology, developed by others, which made Cody’s project possible in the first place, is the result of the kind of “progress” of civilization that he expressly wants to unravel.

Simple plastic gun that can shoot off one round (though that's all it really takes)
Simple plastic gun that can shoot off one round (though that can be enough)

Apparently you can buy ammunition and various gun parts over the internet, but you can’t buy the piece housing the trigger mechanism necessary to shoot. Having the time, resources, and privilege that society gave him, Cody was able to come up with the idea of making that one component out of plastic using new technology. This specifically enables those who can’t legally purchase a weapon to acquire the missing piece. And It was about as difficult to do as making plastic lawnmower parts, for what that’s worth. Cody’s real gift is getting self-publicity by appropriating existing technology to rebel against his metaphoric parents and be the bad boy on the playground with a slingshot. Einstein he ain’t. A kid with a toy, he is. He’s clever enough, and he and his buddies have been able to print out other parts, and make the lower receiver for one of their guns sufficiently hardy to shoot off over 600 rounds without breaking. They did this largely through the groundbreaking approach of thickening the plastic. More creativity and intelligence has gone into your average video game. On the other hand, his accomplishment isn’t a technological one, it is, according to himself, a social one. His stated aim is to make the banning of firearms impossible. There we have it = bb guns that kill, for children of all ages.

Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distribution
Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributied

If he were just making the guns for himself, I’d think that was cool. DIY guns for nerds! Thumbs up. He’d probably never use it except for showing off. But to willy-nilly divulge the plans to whomever, anywhere in the world, and for whatever purpose, is about as responsible as uploading designs for a dirty bomb. Freedom my ass. This is about power and fame.

Beyond his claim of forever forestalling a complete ban on firearms, Cody’s got a boatload of jargon about the reversibility of history, anarchy, and a bunch of other crap I don’t get the impression he really understands except in an abstract, hypothetical sort of way. I further doubt he can fathom the consequences of people dying because of his personal enterprise (of egoistic glory). Some of his utterances seem accurate enough, such as that the two party system in American doesn’t represent two radically different ideologies, but rather, “they both exist to preserve the interests of this relatively autonomous class of Goldman Sachs bankers”. But he then goes too far, where his dabbling in philosophy has outdistanced his wisdom and lived experience, so that he can spew fine-sounding rhetorical gibberish, but can’t grasp its place or impact in the real world. If he were correct that his uploading of instructions to make plastic guns would allow anyone to have them, does he really have any idea at all what that would amount to in every country and city and instance where one of his plastic triggers was pulled? …Or even one such instance?

Get a whiff of this guy’s mind, as it’s the underpinning of his actions and intention to create vastly more weapons in the world [I transcribed this drivel from a video]:

The only things recognized, like, promulgated, in this culture, are like, kinds of irreversible things – progress, growth… To have a symbolic gift like the printable gun does complete, so much ideological damage and violence to these ideas. You hear these progressive talk all the time about the (????) side of history, how we’re going to get to some result, how it’s going to be whole, and good… And we say, “No. Here’s an element of reversibility. And there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s like the intelligence and transparency of evil itself. It can’t be ignored.”

Let me get this straight. The problem is the notion of progress toward some utopia, and he seeks to undermine this brand of idealism with violence. I gather eradicating slavery, outlawing child labor, curing small pox, and equal rights for women are all part of the accursed ideology that needs to be smashed. Rather than just throw out the baby with the bathwater, he wants to pour gasoline on it. Violence, in Cody’s outlook, is good. Even “evil” is trotted out as having status in the new, post-progress, regressive paradigm of Mr. Wilson, which is a sure sign of the hollowness of his rhetoric. The glaring irony of all of this is that Cody is the poster child of the the progress – be it technological, monetary, or educational – accumulated by the civilization he wishes to undermine. If he really wants to “regress” he can go off-the-grid and give up all his technological toys.

At the end of the coffee break, Mr. Wilson is disseminating guns. Make no mistake [just wanted to use some Bush/Obama phraseology there], this isn’t altruistic in intent, like the One Laptop Per Child program, protests to thwart tar sands oil, or even the leaks of Julian Assange and Wiki-leaks. This is giving matches to children and contributing to a culture of fear, which is antithetical to “freedom”.

Students in a primary school in Kigali, Rwanda in 2009, with laptops provided by One Laptop per Child.
Students in a primary school in Kigali, Rwanda in 2009, with laptops provided by One Laptop per Child.

Sure, Cody’s got his bookish philosophical underpinnings, but what he’s not talking about is who will use these weapons and for what, probably because he has no idea. Anti-gun control proponents might argue that we need such weapons to defend ourselves against an invasion,  a government turning on it’s people, and that the Holocaust or the internment of the Japanese by the American government would never have happened if the victims had fire arms, but that’s debatable (look what happened in the Siege of Waco: FBI agents came in with tear gas, rifles, armored cars, and grenade launchers), and one could imagine that if members of the Occupy movement were suspected of carrying undetectable plastic guns, or firing them, the police would feel compelled to return fire. Instead of being carted off to jail, protesters could be shot, or massacred.

On the ground, in actual cities, where flesh-and-blood people live, the guns aren’t going to be used to pick off Big Brother and rescue freedom. They aren’t going to be used to ward off an advancing army turned against it’s own people. They are going to be used for crime, by the lower classes against each other, by neighbors against neighbors, family against family, and for suicides. The ruling class will largely be safe in their gated communities with ever increasing security, and the vestiges of the middle class and the poor will fire upon each other as their lives become more desperate and hopeless.

Cody Wilson doesn’t represent a radical solution to the limitations of society and its infringements on freedom – he’s no Julian Assange or Bradly Manning divulging the secret corruption and hypocrisy of the corporate state – but is instead an unwitting tool, playing into the hand of justification for ever greater security measures, surveillance, and the curtailing of the freedoms that took lifetimes to secure but are being lost in years and months.

It’s plastic guns for a world where other people’s lives are mere abstractions, and have no more substance or significance than plastic mannequins. In a video game having a gun allows one the freedom to compete, but in reality you can’t switch to a better game after it’s “game over”. My strong suspicion is that Cody Wilson doesn’t live in a community where he has had to deal with a pervasive, possible threat of gun violence directed at himself, family, or friends. Poorer communities need more guns like they need more crack cocaine. Ultimately guns are not a good thing, and we should be evolving beyond being trigger-happy to extinguish other people’s lives with the curling of a finger. More guns are about as safe as more malarial mosquitoes.

Cody talks a lot about the “reversibility” of progress, but what we really have here is the “irreversibility” of his mistake of uploading to the internet plans for plastic guns.

This question didn’t seem to have cropped up, but here it goes anyway.

Is it art?

Well, in the contemporary art world – which includes concept art, performance art, guerrilla art, and “happenings” – a case could be made that it is. First off, it’s got all the rhetorical justification and mumble jumble to prop itself up on. Then is has the “re-contextualization” thing going on; in this case tipping on it’s head WHO designs and disseminates lethal weapons. It unveils a great “equalization”, wherein every man can be an authority unto his/herself  via content created over the internet. Indeed, It’s the ultimate hypostatization, or  “monsterization” of a webpage or blog [note that anytime you can add “ization” or “re” to a word, even if it’s to create a word that doesn’t exist, it sounds more impressive in art theory]. The work “forces us” to deconstruct, reconsider and reevaluate materials and our associations between them and their purposes; and by logical extension to reexamine the connection between words and their objects or meanings.

As contemporary art, I’d say it’s pretty good. As an action with a high propensity for deadly consequences outside of the studio I’d say it’s morally irresponsible and sophomoric.


Informative Video by VICE:

And if you need a break, here’s a great old song about plastic people by The Electric Prunes.

The Electric Prunes, Wind Up Toys:

4 replies on “Plastic guns for plastic lives

  1. I actually spent 5 hours a couple of weeks ago arguing against a couple of pro gun nuts. It’s ridiculous that some people think they have to have weapons, I mean the Police are there to protect us, and how can they if everyone is walking around with guns. The world, with these weapons, could end up becoming a new Wild-West style lawless environment. Good article by the way.


    1. Thanks Official Ginger. Yes, I was thinking about that again this morning. You know how everyone is against N. Korea or Iran having nuclear weapons. Well, that’s a contradiction if their idea is that everyone needs guns for protection and as a deterrent. If every person should be able to have a gun, then every country should be able to have nuclear weapons. We can easily see how more nuclear armed countries is dangerous, but somehow people don’t get why being surrounded by people with guns (including teenagers, who are the ones with the internet savvy to purchase plastic guns) is more dangerous than if there were far fewer guns.


    1. Yeah, but 100,000 of the plans are already out there to be re-disseminated. The guy responsible talks about it in terms of debating a topic, but he’s provided potential access to firearms to people who cannot get them legally, such as teenagers. Anyone who could legally obtain a gun wouldn’t want or need a plastic version, so it’s just for people who are pretty much banned from access.


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