Online forums that share 3D printed gun files haven’t been exempt from the crackdown by Big Tech on gun-related groups, websites, and organizations.
Keybase, which is owned by video conferencing company Zoom, recently vowed to the anti-gun outlet The Trace that it will begin enforcing its policy against content that empowers users to print gun parts on 3D printers.
“We have informed [3D-printed gun groups] that we will discontinue hosting them in the coming days,” a spokesperson for Keybase told The Trace.
This is the second time these groups have been forced to move platforms. Back in 2019, Big Tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Reddit banned 3D printed gun files, so users moved to the encrypted platform, Keybase. But since Zoom acquired Keybase last summer, the chat and file-sharing company has been cracking down.
One of the largest groups, Deterrence Dispensed, boasted 27,000 members in January before shutting down their page and migrating to a new self-hosted chat server using the open-source software Rocketcat.
“We suspected this was coming after Zoom acquired Keybase,” user and one of the unofficial group leaders, ivanthetroll, wrote in the team’s primary chat channel on January 15. “It’s best we moved off a platform that we don’t host ourselves anyway — the coastal liberals who run zoom (sic) would take great pleasure at banning us without warning at Joe [Biden]’s request.”
But Ivan remains confident that their group will continue to operate on their new website. He told GunsAmerica via email that the group lost many inactive users in the move, but they gained more active users than they had before.
“It’s virtue signaling without any real effect,” he said of Keybase’s decision to ban 3D gun content. “Progress hasn’t stopped, we got to move to a platform that is easier to use and less buggy, and everyone has adjusted well.”
Ivan also took issue with The Trace’s contention that the group relied on Keybase to share files.
“The Trace is so poor in their research of this topic… when they suggest that we used Keybase as a primary means of sharing files, or that KBFS [Keybase File System] was fundamental to our operation,” he told us. “That suggestion is just wrong. We could have been using Discord this whole time and it would have work — KBFS was convenient, but hardly essential or even an important structure.”
Ultimately, Ivan hopes that the 3D printed gun movement will encourage politicians to shift from supply-side gun control to a stricter enforcement of gun-related crime.
“It’d be nice to see politics adjust to this reality by framing gun control as a question of strict punishment of harmful acts and a release of supply-side restrictions, but I’m sure that wouldn’t sell as well as a relentless attack on the rights of good people of this country,” he said.
Deterrence Dispensed’s website features a how-go guide for 3D printer beginners, a cache of 3D printer files, and a chat room with about 5,800 members. They host files on LBRY, a blockchain-based file hosting protocol that has so far refused to moderate content.
In most states and at the federal level, it is legal to 3D print firearms at home. California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington have enacted laws outlawing or otherwise restricting homemade firearms. New York and New Jersey, for example, have outlawed the possession of unregistered “assault weapons,” so manufacturing a firearm that adheres to those characteristics may result in prosecution.
But rather than go after the firearms themselves, most states and anti-gun government entities have focused on the distribution of the files necessary to 3D print guns.
Defense Distributed is the best-known company in this space, and they won a case in 2018 against the State Department, which had prohibited them from sharing their files online.
One day before Defense Distributed was set to release the files online, eight state attorneys general filed a lawsuit blocking the settlement and eventually secured an injunction prohibiting Defense Distributed from releasing the files. But Defense Distributed had already released the files prior to the court’s injunction, and they had been downloaded tens of thousands of times.
Finding the files online isn’t difficult, and there are many other groups that share them. On January 16, Deterrence Dispensed released a video announcing their commitment to remaining online and continuing their work.
“All individuals are entitled to the utility to defend their humanity,” their website reads. “Gun control has failed. You can’t stop the signal.”