WASHINGTON: A US gun rights activist and entrepreneur vowed Tuesday to fight attempts to block his free publication of blueprints for 3D-printed firearms, as US President Donald Trump signaled he was skeptical about whether the plans should be readily available.
Cody Wilson, a self-proclaimed "crypto-anarchist" and gun rights advocate, has made available for download open-source digital files for making so-called "ghost guns."
His website Defcad went live ahead one day early on Tuesday, as uproar mounted over a settlement he made with the federal government that allowed him to publish -- and numerous states resorted to 11th-hour lawsuits to block the site.
Wilson says he is facing legal action from "at least 21 state attorneys general" who have cited a risk to public safety -- but insists he will not back down.
"I intend to litigate," he told Wired magazine. "Americans have the unquestionable right to share this information."
Wilson's legal team has argued that any move to prevent the distribution of the blueprints would run counter to the "foundational principles of free speech."
Wilson also says the US Constitution's Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms, should extend to a person's right to make their own guns.
Politicians, gun control advocates and law enforcement however have expressed concerns that Wilson's plans could help anyone -- from a teen to a convicted felon -- make untraceable weapons with no serial numbers which could evade metal detectors.
Karl Racine, the attorney general for the District of Columbia, argued that Wilson's website would be "reckless and would create chaos and violence in the streets of the United States."
'Doesn't seem to make much sense'
In June, after a five-year legal battle between Wilson and the federal government, Trump's administration granted him permission to operate his website Defcad, envisioned as the WikiLeaks of firearms.
On Tuesday, AFP was able to download two files from Defcad, which featured digital files for 10 firearms and weapons components, though the site had some technical glitches.
The controversial 3D firearms technology presents Trump with tough questions about protecting the public, the limits of gun ownership rights and his own political fortunes.
With legal challenges against Wilson multiplying, Trump weighed in on Twitter, revealing that he had spoken to America's main pro-gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, about the topic.
"I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public," Trump said, in apparent skepticism about their use. "Already spoke to NRA, doesn't seem to make much sense!"
During his 18-month presidency, which has not been spared from mass shootings in schools and elsewhere, Trump has occasionally seemed to favor tougher gun regulations, only to later buckle under pressure from his base and donors.
Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the US House of Representatives, condemned the administration's settlement with Wilson.
"This decision is a death warrant for countless innocent men, women and children," Pelosi said in a statement. "For the sake of all our safety and lives, it must be reversed immediately."
While Wilson has somehow become the public face of homemade weapons technology, the phenomenon is bigger than his website alone.
Earlier in July, Los Angeles police showcased an arsenal of so-called "ghost guns" seized from gang members during a six-month undercover operation.
The weapons, including AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles, were fashioned from kits purchased online, according to police. Wilson's website also features blueprints for the AR-15 and similar arms.
Wilson wants to supercharge the "ghost gun" trend by building the definitive repository of information, where even a novice can download digital code and build a gun with a 3D printer.
Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence told AFP that the implications could be even greater for other countries.
"It's certainly a huge international problem, particularly given that many other countries have much stronger gun laws than in America," Lowy said.
"So, in those countries, there are many people who shouldn't have guns and could not get them unless they can get their hands on a 3D-printed gun."
In the five years since his legal battle began, his company Defense Distributed has grown to 15 employees inside a non-descript warehouse in the Texas state capital of Austin.
They have created a plastic 3D-printable handgun called the "Liberator," a machine called the "Ghost Gunner" with which homemade metal gun parts can be constructed, and amassed digital files for a number of weapons.