There’s an interesting back-and-forth going on at Thingiverse, a site founded by Makerbot to share 3D projects. Two designers have made two parts for the AR-15 rifle platform. The first part is a standard rifle magazine complete with spring but the second part is AR-15 lower receiver.
Why are these parts important? Well, the magazine is just on the edge of Thinigverse’s implied (but not concrete) “no weapons” philosophy but the lower receiver is something else entirely. It is the only part of the AR-15 that you need a license to buy. Here’s what the creator, KingLudd, has to say about it:
The Lower Receiver is the frame that holds together all the other pieces of the firearm. In the States, all the other pieces can be purchased without a permit – over the counter or through the post. The Lower Receiver is the only part which requires a background check or any other kind of paperwork before purchase.
Typically this part is made of aluminium. A rifle with a Lower Receiver made of plastic can be perfectly functional.
Is it a weapon? Is it a part? Is it illegal or legal?
The question, in short, is at what point is a “part” a weapon? If you buy all of the other pieces in metal – pieces that were made in much the same way this piece was made – are you breaking the law by building your own, final piece. Is this akin to building your own dum-dum bullets or is it more like “unlocking” a deadly weapon with a what amounts to a copied key?
Bre Pettis, founder of Makerbot, said that he’s dealt with this before and that the answer is never clear-cut. “We’ve already been through a few flame wars around what a weapon is. Our take is that we’d rather you not upload weapons, but we’re not going to regulate it… unless it’s illegal. Which it isn’t.”
I find it fascinating that we’re even asking these questions at this point. The fact that we are now able to manufacture usable weapon parts is an important step in the evolution of fabrication and manufacture and, if I were a weapons giant, I’d start rethinking my sales strategies. When a company of rebels can print their own AK-47s (a concept that is still a ways off), whose fault is it? The person who made the plans? The fabricator? The company whose rifles they copied?
In the end, a thing is just a thing. After all, the same site that helps you build an AR-15 also lets you put a flower into the barrel of one.