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Austin-Based 3D-Gun Firm Expects A Boom In Business As Biden Targets 'Ghost Guns'

3-D-manufactured firearms receivers.
Ilana Panich-Linsman

Lee esta historia en español.

Austin-based 3-D gun designer Cody Wilson said he expects a White House plan to curb the proliferation of so-called ghost guns will end up in court and that it could also incentivize more people to manufacture firearms at home.

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced the administration's intent to crack down on kits sold online to manufacture the untraceable guns. He said a forthcoming administrative rule from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would require serial numbers and background checks on the DIY guns.

Wilson is a former UT student who began manufacturing 3D-printed pistols in 2012. He went on to found Defense Distributed and eventually Ghost Gunner, which manufactures machines that allow people to make receivers and frames for pistols and long-guns fully functional.

Wilson told KUT the proposed regulations likely will face legal challenges, and that he expects Trump-appointed judges would stall any orders, effectively giving manufacturers time to find work-arounds.

"It's going to be fought ferociously," he said, "and there's enough Trump judges out there that [it's] even odds that it gets completely stalled."

Trump appointed 30% of federal appeals court judges in his single term — more than George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined.

The kits sold online contain a receiver without a serial number, along with other components that can be used to assemble a firearm. Known as "80%" receivers and frames because they're 80% complete, they're not classified as firearms by the ATF nor are they subject to the Gun Control Act of 1968.

Several states have sued over their sale because they're used to create guns that are near-impossible to trace. In California, ghost guns accounted for a third of firearms seized by ATF agents in 2018.

Wilson said he expects the rule would target manufacturers like Polymer80, a popular Nevada-based firm that manufactures receivers modeled after Glock and Sig Sauer pistols. The company was raided by the ATF late last year.

Wilson said he doesn't expect any new federal rule to affect operations at Defense Distributed or Ghost Gunner, which he rejoined after taking a plea deal for a charge of sex with a minor. In fact, he said, he expects the rule could mean more people seeking his so-called milling machines, which allow people to make their own 80% receivers.

"Obviously, in the game that we're in, we've anticipated this for a long time," he said. "This is not a surprise and, of course, we have a commercial and a legal answer to it in the worst-case scenario."

Wilson and his companies have been tied up in federal courts over the last few years over files used to print those receivers. He said the government's move could cause more people to make their own untraceable firearm components and, eventually, their own guns.

"It's going to be an [actually] perverse set of incentives where more people are going to get into the industry of making unfinished components, because nobody wants to deal with regulated components," he said. "So, a year from now everyone's going to be complaining about how much ... easier it is and how ... more people are using my equipment"

Biden's announcement comes after mass shootings in Boulder, Colo., and Atlanta last month, and as another unfolded in Bryan.

At least five states and the District of Columbia have sued to ban the sale of ghost guns, according to the nonprofit Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.

Biden said he expects the ATF to put forth a rule within 30 days. After that, there will be a public comment period before a rule is finalized.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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