Cody Wilson with a model of the Liberator. Photograph: Cody Wilson
The worst part about Cody Wilson is that hes likable in person, and its easy to want to root for him as the underdog. But then hell say something so off-the-wall gun safety is using both hands, say and you crash back to reality.
He seems to get off on the negative attention but then, a breath later, he admits that the stress has taken a toll, his life chipping away like the shell of an egg.
Ive become this narrow, strange version of myself, he says. I feel tired. Its hard to have the same sense of humor I had in the beginning. Im completely out of shape, I dont eat well, I dont sleep that much. I get acute stress all the time, and I get it in my wrist, a tingle in my hand. When the state department smashed me, I was sick. Doctors said it was mono, but I was in bed for weeks. My family is worried about me. They recognize that Im in a lot of trouble and they just worry. They didnt want this for me.
But he hasnt stopped. Hes toyed with
BitCoin startups, recently soft-launched a Kickstarter for a guns marketplace called GunSpring, and unveiled the Ghost Gunner 2 for home-manufacturing of ARs.
And heres where his pro-gun freedom fighter persona begins to clash. The finished weapons his products help produce do lack serial numbers, but its not like anyone can buy them. His purchasers are stringently vetted by Defense Distributed via government agency list aggregates. That means thorough background checks.
I constantly run backscreens of our customers and our depositors against the grid, which are updated daily, he says. Theres tons of law I have to deal with already, even though I try to position us as a radical libertarian company. I have to certify that [clients] are US persons, not US citizens, but US persons. That means do you have a green card, what kind of visa do you have?
Wilson pays a couple of hundred a month for this compliance not to ensure his wares dont get into the wrong hands, but to keep the feds happy. I do exactly what Im required by law, and nothing else, he declares. Weve shipped almost 2,000 machines at this point. Were responsible for at least 5,000 to 10,000 new ARs that exist. At least.
He says it proudly, like a child thats just taken a magnifying glass to an ant colony. Either he fails to see the pain his creations can bring, or doesnt care.
When I posit the potential, Wilson furrows his brow and barks: Show me. Prove it. Its very unlikely someones going to buy a Ghost Gunner, make a gun and then go commit a crime. Its never happened. A third of our entire market is upper-middle-class people in
California that have expendable income and enjoy building handguns.
He claims his designs have not been used to kill, but if not his, surely his competitors.
Last year, a
murder-suicide in Stanford, California was committed with homemade handguns crafted from lower receivers. In 2012, before Wilson began Defense Distributed, an AR-15 lower receiver a product Wilson now retails for $65 was used in the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Wilson didnt sell that item, but its essentially the same one he does sell now. In 2013, John Zawahri slaughtered five in Santa Monica using a home-assembled AR. Zawahri was unable to buy a gun due to his mental health issues, but he built his own with a lower receiver he finished milling using a drill press and other tools a design horribly reminiscent of Wilsons.
Theres no way to determine how many if any have been killed by Wilsons toys. But even he admits: Its an eventuality. Not necessarily a likelihood, but the longer Im around Isnt one tragedy one too many?
No, says Wilson. It does not register on my meter. Whatsoever.
Mitch Berman, who taught Wilson at law school, remembers him fondly, but didnt get the impression that his commitment was deeply philosophical, but rather something he realized was doable, and wanted to be the guy to do it.
I thought it was a bad idea. Being able to print out a gun at home seems to allow for a potentially large loophole for commonsense gun preservation.
He hasnt spoken to Wilson in five years, but shared the same concerns as I had. If you build enough guns, theyre going to be used in ways to make some shudder. He assured me he thought about it, understood it would happen, and was prepared to live with it. Berman pauses, measures his words. It would be a rare cat that actually doesnt feel substantial pains during that circumstance. I hope it doesnt destroy his life and career. Hes still a young guy.
The design for a 3D printable gun that Cody Wilson, right, was ordered to take down from the internet. Photograph: Ilana Panich-Linsman/New York Times / Redux / eyevine
Looking ahead, Wilson is keeping a close eye on the presidential race. A Republican in office means the second amendment and assault weapons are safe. And a Democrat probably means an all-out ban on them. Depending on whos in the White House, change may come swiftly.
If Hillary Clinton is elected president, I become a much more important person in the gun world. Its conceivable, especially under four or eight years of Hillary, that I become the biggest way that people make ARs. Who knows? If and when he gets closure in his case, Cody Wilson will win and the web will be flooded with instructions to make more weapons.
If Wilson and others really cared about Americas doctrines of freedom, liberty and justice as much as they do their commitment to their guns, theyd ensure failsafes like biometric locks or even serial numbers if that would placate naysayers, and make products safer. Instead, it seems to be a my-way-or-nothing, pry-my-gun-from-my-cold-dead-fingers mentality, with no room for debate.
After coffee, we walk around my neighborhood and I invite Wilson over to my apartment. We talk politics and literature, and he tells me about his book, slated for October release with Simon & Schuster, aptly titled Come And Take It.
We share a beer and I show him a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook. An original the 1960s handbook for subversives. Wilson flips through the frayed, yellow pages, recipes for mayhem, revenge, drugs.
Did you try any of this? he asks. I shake my head. No. Some doors are better left unopened.