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FedEx, UPS Say They Won't Ship 'Ghost Gunner' Machines

While the technology now exists for people to 3D print parts and build untraceable “ghost guns” in their own homes, they need to order some of the manufacturing equipment from companies or organizations like Austin-based Defense Distributed.

Which means Defense Distributed needs to ship that equipment. But in the past week, both FedEx and UPS have said they refuse to allow DD's founder Cody Wilson to ship orders for Ghost Gunners, machines that allow people to manufacture firearms components.

“Our consumers, around 500 or so, are expecting machines at the end of this month,” Wilson says. According to Wilson, he discussed his shipment with his FedEx account executive, who went back and forth with supervisors before telling Wilson no. Wilson has a corporate account with the company, and he chose to use FedEx in the past at least in part because it offers a discount to NRA members. Licensed firearms dealers, manufacturers and collectors can ship guns through FedEx, and Wilson says he has used it to do so before in his capacity as a federally licensed manufacturer.

Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News
Cody Wilson, manufacturing director of Defense Distributed.

FedEx spokesperson Scott Fielder wrote in a statement that the company was “uncertain at this time whether this device is a regulated commodity by local, state or federal governments. As such, to ensure we comply with the applicable law and regulations, FedEx declined to ship this device until we know more about how it will be regulated.”

Wilson argues that shipping the equipment doesn’t technically violate any current laws.

“There’s nothing more legal than being able to do this. It’s unregulated, doesn’t even touch on any gun laws,” Wilson says.

Nor is the manufacturing device, technically speaking, a “gun-making machine.” He says it’s a standard industrial device with which people can produce various small aluminum parts. Sure, it’s called the Ghost Gunner, and it’s marketed on Defense Distributed’s website as a device that allows you to “legally manufacture unserialized AR-15s in the comfort and privacy of your home.”

But it’s technically true that someone could use it to make parts for some other non-specific item.

A statement from UPS was similar to the one from FedEx. Spokesperson Dan McMackin says that the company is “continuing to evaluate such concerns with regard to the transportation of milling machines used to produce operable firearms but, at this point in time, will not accept such devices for transportation.”

Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News
Gun components.

Katina Fields with the U.S. Postal Service says they're “looking into the specifics of this printer to determine whether it would be mailable.” Fields didn’t say whether they’d ship the machines or not if Wilson were to approach them today.

Wilson said in an email of USPS’s statement: “Haha they’re the Feds so they have to.”

FedEx and UPS’s choosing not to do business with him is, in Wilson’s eyes, a political stance.

Defense Distributed has been rejected before: It was kicked off the crowdfunding website Indiegogo, and 3D printing company Makerbot stopped offering open-source gun design specs on its site.

But as is evidenced by all the orders Defense Distributed has received, the demand for the machines exists. Now it’s just a matter of Wilson figuring out how to distribute his products. The lack of regulations on home gun manufacturing allows Wilson to navigate these legal gray areas, and he’s very motivated to do so.

His corporation, actually a non-profit, is an open-source project, and has come to be part of an ideological movement. Its mission is to provide materials to those who want to manufacture their own firearms without going through licensed dealers – or getting the guns tagged with serial numbers.

And while Wilson claims that he’s not trying to court controversy on this issue, he doesn’t speak in uncertain terms. If he can’t work with USPS, Wilson says that he’s “interested in trying to smuggle the machines out. Let’s see if we can get it under their noses. See how long it takes them to find out.”

Note: This post earlier referred to a Ghost Gunner as a "printer," and it's not exactly a 3D printer because of the materials it is able to use and produce. As with 3D printers, Ghost Gunners are legal to possess for personal use.

Defense Distributed made news two years ago for manufacturing what they called the world's first 3D printed gun. Wilson called it a "symbolic" gun, made more for the sake of proving it could be done. Since then, Defense Distributed has changed its focus to mills like the Ghost Gunner, which are industrial machines that use digital information to construct sturdier, more usable firearms. The blueprints for the firearm construction are open-source, and the mill is similar to a 3D printer conceptually in that it produces objects based on preprogrammed design specifications.

Some of the photos in this story do picture gun components made with a 3D printer.