Defense Distributed is an online, open-source organization that designs firearms, or "wiki weapons", that may be downloaded from the Internet and "printed" with a 3D printer. Among the organization's goals is to develop and freely publish firearms-related design schematics that can be downloaded and reproduced by anyone with a 3D printer.
After raising over US$20,000 via a crowd-funding appeal, suffering the confiscation of its first 3D printer, and partnering with private manufacturing firms, the organization began live fire testing of printable firearm components in December 2012.
Defense Distributed has to date produced a durable printed receiver for the AR-15, the first printed standard capacity AR-15 magazine, and the first printed magazine for the AK-47. These 3D printable files were available for download at the organization's former publishing site, DEFCAD, but are now largely hosted on file sharing websites.
On May 5, 2013, Defense Distributed made public the 3D printable files (STL files) for the world's first fully 3D printable gun, the Liberator .380 single shot pistol.
The defensedistributed.com domain name was registered on June 4, 2012. The website was unveiled in conjunction with an Indiegogo campaign of the same name in July 2012, where the organization asked to receive US$20,000. Indiegogo suspended the crowd-funding campaign for a terms of service violation after three weeks, refunding the money raised without offering public comment. Defense Distributed continued the appeal on its own website, however, accepting contributions through PayPal and the cryptocurrencyBitcoin, and met its fundraising goal in September 2012.
The organization has been predominantly represented in public since July 2012 by Cody Wilson, who is described as a founder and spokesperson.
Defense Distributed lists its members as a mix of students, IT professionals, engineers, and programmers from the United States and Germany.
According to the Defense Distributed website, the nonprofit is organized and operated for charitable and literary purposes, specifically "to defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and affirmed by the Supreme Court, through facilitating global access to, and the collaborative production of, information and knowledge related to the 3D printing of arms; and to publish and distribute... such information and knowledge in promotion of the public interest." The website's “Manifesto” link directs users to an online version of John Milton's essay Areopagitica.
The organization’s motivations have been described as "less about [a] gun... than about democratizing manufacturing technology," In an interview with Slashdot, Cody Wilson described the Wiki Weapon project as a chance to "experiment with Enlightenment ideas… to literally materialize freedom.”
At Bitcoin 2012 in London, Wilson explained the organization as interested in inspiring libertarian forms of social organization and technologically driven inversions of authority.
In December 2012, as a response to Makerbot Industries' decision to remove firearms-related 3D printable files at the popular repository Thingiverse, Defense Distributed launched a companion site at defcad.org to publicly host the removed 3D printable files and its own. Public and community submissions to DEFCAD rose quickly, and in March 2013, at the SXSW Interactive festival, Wilson announced a repurposed and expanded DEFCAD as a separate entity that would serve as a 3D search engine and development hub, while maintaining the spirit of access endemic to Defense Distributed. The new DEFCAD was deemed "The Pirate Bay of 3D Printing" and "the anti-Makerbot" even before its launch, and provides an index of over 100,000 files.
Defense Distributed is a pending 501(c)(3) federal tax exempt organization, and not a weapons manufacturer. The organization operates to publish intellectual property and information developed by licensed firearms manufacturers and the public.
Learning of Defense Distributed's plans in 2012, manufacturer Stratasys, Ltd threatened legal action and demanded the return of the 3D printer it had leased to Wilson. On September 26, before the printer was assembled for use, Wilson received an email from Stratasys suggesting that he might use the printer "for illegal purposes". Stratasys immediately canceled its lease with Wilson and sent a team to confiscate the printer the next day. Wilson was subsequently questioned by the ATF when visiting an ATF field office in Austin, Texas to inquire about legalities and regulations relating to the Wiki Weapons project.
Defense Distributed had been ordered by the United States Department of State on May 9, 2013 to remove the download links to its publicly accessible cad files. The State Department stated in a letter, "Pursuant to § 127.1 of the ITAR [International Traffic in Arms Regulations] it is unlawful to export any defense article or technical data for which a license or written approval is required without first obtaining the required authorization from the DTCC. Please note that disclosing (including oral or visual disclosure) or transferring technical data to a foreign person, whether in the United States or abroad, is considered an export under § 120.17 of the ITAR." This letter most likely was transmitted in light of Defense Distributed Liberator Pistol, a fully functioning firearm with fifteen of the sixteen required parts being entirely manufactured with a 3D printer. Peer to peer torrent sites continue to host the torrents for Defense Distributed cad files. Therefore, only the "official" download links have been removed and the files are still accessible by these means.
Defense Distributed has received both strong praise and criticism. It has not been endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which to date has offered no public comment on the organization or its activities. Defense Distributed has been obliquely endorsed by the Gun Owners of America (GOA). Critics[who?] have accused the organization of endangering public safety and attempting to frustrate and alter the US system of government.
Commenting on Defense Distributed’s frequent theatricality, Aaron Timms of Blouin News described the organization as performing “the greatest piece of political performance art of [the 21st] century.”
Open source software advocate Eric S. Raymond has endorsed the organization and its efforts, calling Defense Distributed "friends of freedom" and writing "I approve of any development that makes it more difficult for governments and criminals to monopolize the use of force. As 3D printers become less expensive and more ubiquitous, this could be a major step in the right direction."