Fifteen of the gun’s 16 pieces are constructed on the $8,000 Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer.
The US government has blocked a Texas-based company from distributing details online of how to make a plastic gun using a 3-D printer.
The ban, by the State Department citing international arms control law, comes just days after the world’s first such gun was successfully fired.
Defense Distributed, the company that made the prototype, stated on Twitter that its project had “gone dark” at the instigation of the government.
The company is run by Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old University of Texas law student who has said the idea for freely distributing details about how to produce the guns online was inspired by 19th century anarchist writing. Wilson argues everyone should have access to guns.
A State Department spokesman said: “Although we do not comment on whether we have individual ongoing compliance matters, we can confirm that the department has been in communication with the company.”
The action came too late to prevent widespread distribution of the files: Defense Distributed told Forbes that the files have already been downloaded more than 100,000 times in the two days since they were uploaded. The largest number of downloads initially were to addresses in Spain, followed by the US, Brazil, Germany and the UK.
Fifteen of the gun’s 16 pieces are constructed on the $8,000 Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer, Forbes said. The final piece is a common nail, used as a firing pin, that can be found in a hardware store.
Betabeat posted a copy of the letter reportedly sent by the Department of State to Wilson. The department said the blueprints had to be taken offline because they may contain data regulated by the State Department. The departement said it would review the files.
“I immediately complied and I’ve taken down the files,” Wilson told Betabeat. “But this is a much bigger deal than guns. It has implications for the freedom of the web.”
Defense Distributed does not host the files in the US; instead it has uploaded them to the Mega website run by the internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, based in New Zealand, and where user information – including who has logged into the site and downloaded files – is encrypted.
The files have also been uploaded to the Pirate Bay file-sharing site, where they have proved a popular download.
The gun blueprints take the form of computer-aided design files, which have to be read by specialist software which can then be used by industrial 3D printers to build up the hair-thin layers, one by one, to create the finished parts.
On Thursday, a British expert in 3D printing and a ballistics expert separately warned that building a gun from the parts could be lethal to the user, because the physics involved in firing a bullet – with pressures in the gun chamber of more than 1,000 atmospheres, and temperatures of over 200C – could put catastrophic stresses on the plastics used it its construction.
Even so, two British newspapers are understood to have asked 3D printing companies to try to build the gun for them.
In the US, a reporter who downloaded the file found that companies with sufficient 3D printing capability refused to produce the device, citing laws against the production of such weapons – or asking prices that were substantially higher than those for high-quality rifles available in shops.
Wilson has been on a public mission to create a 3D printed gun since September 2012. He initially attempted to fund the project using crowdsourcing site Indiegogo, but the site removed his pitch for breaching the company’s rules. Wilson then raised $20,000 in Bitcoins for the project but Stratasys repossessed his printer.
He has since gained access to a second Stratasys printer which was presumably used to create the gun fired over the weekend.
Wilson unsuccessfully applied for a federal firearms license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and has said he wants to create the gun legally. On Sunday, New York senator Charles Schumer said that legislation should be created to prevent people from making 3D printed guns.