By Christina Huynh
Before Wired magazine named Cody Wilson as one of their 15 most dangerous people in the world in December, Wilson was an honors student at the University of Central Arkansas in 2010, studying English with plans to attend law school.
A Cabot native, Wilson, 25, is one of six Arkansans who launched Defense Distributed, a nonprofit organization that offers original gun designs online that can be downloaded to create a firearm with a 3D printer. The other Arkansans involved with Defense Distributed are Ben Denio, 30; Sean Kubin, 30; Chris Hancock, 25; Dana Bizzell, 25; and Brad Bridges, 25.
In early May, Wilson successfully fired a 3D-printed gun called ‘the Liberator,’ a nod to a U.S. Army proposal to drop pistols into Nazi-occupied France in World War II. A few days later, the State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance sent Wilson a letter asking him to remove the gun’s blueprints, and Defense Distributed complied.
But the damage had already been done — the schematics for individuals to print their own ‘Liberator’ gun was downloaded more than 100,000 times in the two days after Wilson fired his 3D-printed gun.
“We ended up putting every bit of progress we made on YouTube, and we had round after round of press over a six-to-eight-month period,” Wilson said. “I didn’t see it happening that way, of it building into this kind of pitch, but I really did think it would be very controversial.”
The idea to launch Defense Distributed started from a conversation Wilson — who was a law student at the University of Texas at Austin at the time — had with Denio in spring 2012. Wilson said they both knew it would be a contentious project, and Wilson said it was one of the ways they could “rectify our political values and express our points of view.”
By March 2012, Wilson said, he was set on creating Defense Distributed and recruited others to help build a marketing and brand strategy and to develop a plan on how to build a 3D-printed gun in the following months.
“We knew it was going to take some experimentation, money and capital that we didn’t have,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a difficult sell for some of these [crowd-funding] sites, because they have to approve some projects. It’s already difficult to get firearm-type projects approved.”
Explaining his motivation to start Defense Distributed to his parents was a “gradual process,” he said. Wilson said his father, who was present when Wilson fired the ‘Liberator,’ understood Defense Distributed for its political value. However, it took a while for his mother to understand, he said.
“I think she saw it as potentially illegal so her overriding concerns were for my safety,” Wilson said.
For now, Wilson said, he believes Defense Distributed has “the facts set out and the positioning” to challenge the federal government concerning the First and Second Amendments.
“The facts do seem to suggest that we can make constitutional challenge,” he said. “It could be in five years from now that we’re close to some landmark constitutional decision. I mean that’s wishful thinking, but so was the printed gun.”