‘Mic Dispatch’ episode 12: Exploring 3D-printed guns; inside the world of incels
In this edition of Mic Dispatch, Mic co-founder Jake Horowitz explores the legality and consequences of 3D-printing guns, and visits a 20-year-old college student in Alton, Illinois, who 3D-prints gun parts in his basement as a hobby.
Then, correspondent Yoonj Kim interviews a former “incel,” or “involuntary celibate” Jack Peterson, a 19-year-old from Chicago. Young men like Peterson typically join the incel community to find answers to their isolation, but then are led down a road of misogyny and racism — a road that can sometimes end in violence.
John, 20-year-old who 3D-prints gun parts at home: You need to go out and you need to buy a gun if you are — if you feel threatened by your government, go buy a gun ’cause as soon as they come knock on your door and say, “It’s time,” you know, “The bus is here for gay conversion camp,” you can go ahead and tell them what you think about that.
Natasha Del Toro, anchor, Mic Dispatch: There’s been a huge debate this summer around ghost guns: Firearms you can make at home on a 3D printer that are unregistered and untraceable, which could make them appealing for criminals. At least, that’s the fear. In just a minute, you’ll hear Mic co-founder Jake Horowitz talk to a 20-year-old who prints these guns in his basement, which raises a serious question: Should people be allowed to do this under the Second Amendment?
Jake Horowitz, Mic co-founder (voiceover): This is an AR-15.
John: We’re off safe, ready to go.
Horowitz (voiceover): The same gun used in deadly mass shootings like those in Las Vegas and in Parkland, Florida.
John: All righty.
Horowitz: How did that feel?
John: It was fun.
Horowitz (voiceover): Except this gun is completely untraceable and was [in part] 3D-printed by a 20-year-old in his parent’s basement. 3D-printing is the latest battleground in the debate over guns in America. For proponents, there’s not a shade of doubt: This is exactly what the Constitution allows for.
[Unidentified interviewee in CNN clip: I believe that people can publish [3D-print gun blueprints]. I know that they can legally under the First Amendment.]
Horowitz (voiceover): But opponents say just the opposite: That 3D-printing makes it too easy for dangerous people to cause mass harm.
[Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), in clip: These ghost guns are the new wave of American gun violence.]
Horowitz (voiceover): An organization called Defense Distributed is currently locked in a legal battle in federal court for the right to post [3D-print] gun blueprints online. While this plays out, I wanted to separate fact from fiction and understand: How easy is it to 3D-print a gun? Do these weapons pose a real risk to public safety? And are they constitutional? To learn more, I traveled to Alton, Illinois, to meet John, a college student who prints guns as a hobby. John insisted we not use his last name because he feared this story would harm his future job prospects.
Horowitz: This is a 3D-printed AR?
John: Right. So just this part here.
Horowitz (voiceover): If you’re unfamiliar with the process of 3D-printing guns, you might think you can just pop out an entire weapon with the press of a button. But what’s far more common, and what John does, is to print a single part of the gun, which is the only part that needs to be registered. Then he buys the rest of the parts online to make a fully functioning so-called ghost gun. None of this requires a background check.
Horowitz: So this, that you’ve printed, could get how many shots — if it’s done successfully?
John: I’ve got a thousand rounds through that one.
Horowitz: A thousand rounds through that one.
Horowitz (voiceover): Although Defense Distributed is fighting for the right to distribute gun blueprints online, John told us he could already find them easily on a web forum. And while it did take him several tries to successfully print one, he can now make a fully functioning AR-15 from his bedroom.
John: So, you know, it is — contrary of what the news that’s been going around — it isn’t as easy as “download, click, print” as evidenced by I’ve “download, click, print” and then sighed and then download and clicked and print again and then sigh.
Horowitz: So how long does each layer take to print?
John: I started building it after work one night and I started about 5 and didn’t finish till like 2 in the morning, but I was so geeked out by it, I was like, “Oh I’m starting this print now, I’m starting it now.”
Horowitz: So how much is all this stuff?
John: So if you started absolutely from scratch: Printer, we can say is $600, you assemble it yourself. The gun is about $400 in parts for the gun and tools for assembly. So you’re looking at around $1,000.
Horowitz: Thousand dollars to print this weapon?
John: To end up with what we have here.
Horowitz: OK. How much would it cost to just buy it outright?
John: So if you were to run down to a gun store and you just wanted the cheapest possible AR, you could get a new one for 500 or less.
Horowitz (voiceover): Everything John’s doing is legal. And as I saw him go through the process of 3D-printing a gun, it struck me that, with some trial and error, anyone can figure this out.
Horowitz: What about school shooters here in the U.S.? Were you worried about people with mental health issues? People who, you know, we’ve seen shoot up schools, people like that getting their access?
John: So, let’s say I’m a crazy person, right? I’m bent on shooting up a school ’cause I’m sick or whatever. I, again, you know, the same analogy with the felon: Am I going to buy a $600 printer, or am I just going to go steal the gun from my parents or my neighbor next door?
Horowitz (voiceover): The real danger of [3D-printed] guns, according to some opponents, is that they’re untraceable, which could make it easier for criminals to evade law enforcement. This isn’t just theoretical. According to a report from the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control, there have been multiple incidents since 2016 in which law enforcement officials and TSA agents have seized 3D-printed firearms.
Horowitz: There is a fear that they can be widely distributed.
John: Potentially, yeah.
Horowitz: Without any kind of traceable —
John: Right. The traceability is a good one. I’m glad you brought that up. So, again, it’s fear. It’s fear-based, that “Oh, these guns are untraceable.” What does that really mean? I mean, it means that you can’t find who originally sold it? At the end of the day, you know, what difference does that make? A crime has still been committed.
David Chipman, senior policy adviser, Giffords: Courage to Fight Violence, and former ATF officer: I use trace data to put dozens, if not hundreds, of people [in] jail in my career. It’s how, fundamentally, we solve crimes.
Horowitz (voiceover): The student survivors of the Parkland shooting know just how serious this weapon is. I met up with them in Philadelphia, where they were advocating for stricter gun laws and registering young people to vote, in order to hear what they had to say about the 3D debate.
Matt Deitsch, graduate, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: If we’re actually talking about the safety of Americans, if more guns made us more safe, then we’d be the safest country in the world. And allowing anyone, regardless of their criminal background or intention, to print a gun in their household is nonsense.
Horowitz (voiceover): I pressed John on why America needs easy access to more guns at a time when we’re already struggling to prevent deadly mass shootings. His answer may surprise you.
John: Whenever, you know, Trump won the election, I heard a lot of outcry, especially in some of my honors classes, from people who are LGBTQ+. You know, Pence has said some very inconsiderate things, you know, like the gay conversion camps. You need to go out and you need to buy a gun if you are — if you feel threatened by your government, go buy a gun ’cause as soon as they come knock on your door and say, “It’s time,” you know, “The bus is here for gay conversion camp,” you can go ahead and tell them what you think about that.
Horowitz: That’s a powerful statement.
John: Right. And I mean, that is really what the Second Amendment is about at its core. And so, for that reason, I don’t think the Second Amendment should be as partisan as it is. I think it really should be — it’s more totalitarian versus democratic than it is left versus right.
Horowitz: Let me ask you, while we’re on that topic, what would somebody like you want to see happen after these school shootings? Because clearly our founders did not live in a time where we had school shootings.
John: See, that’s a stinger and it’s hard for anybody, especially with my viewpoint, to answer in a compassionate way, but as weird as it sounds, you can’t do much, right? So if you ban guns, you can’t prevent availability to guns. This is proof of that.
Horowitz (voiceover): 3D-printed gun supporters insist it’s their Second Amendment right to print a gun and also their First Amendment right to distribute the blueprints online to build them. Michael Waldman, an expert on the Second Amendment, told me the constitutional issues are not clear cut.
Michael Waldman, president, Brennan Center for Justice: The First Amendment issues are more complex than the Second Amendment issues. You can ban this under the Second Amendment, and the First Amendment, there’s a lot of law saying, “Well, computer code, that actually is a form of speech.” But when you have speech that leads immediately to violence or immediately to law breaking, that can be treated differently by the law.
Chipman: I’m concerned in five, 10 years, this technology advances, it will become easier. And now’s the time to regulate this — not while the horse is really out of the barn, and we’re seeing cases like Las Vegas and other serious crimes. I’d like to prevent crimes before they happen, not just solve them after the fact.
Horowitz (voiceover): What the courts will decide about the legality of [3D-printed] gun blueprints and their distribution online remains to be seen. But as we learned from John, the information to build them is already out there, and there’s nothing stopping him or anyone else from doing so.
Del Toro: So what do you think? Is this what the founders intended when they said “the right to bear arms”? There’s clearly a lot to talk about here, so we’d love for you to leave a comment below and tag a friend to join the discussion.
It’s definitely rough out there when it comes to dating. But for some, rejection has turned to rage. Tens of thousands of men who are striking out in love are lashing out online as part of a movement called incel, which stands for “involuntary celibate.” In other words, they’re not getting laid. In anonymous forums, this sexually frustrated group [discusses] their hatred of women and of themselves. Yoonj Kim takes us inside this dark and sometimes deadly corner of the internet.
Jack Peterson, former involuntary celibate: It’s pretty anxiety-inducing, ’cause you’re representing the most vilified group on the planet right now.
Yoonj Kim, correspondent: This is Jack Peterson, a 19-year-old from Chicago who used to be a podcaster and de facto representative for incels. “Incel” stands for “involuntary celibate,” a community of mostly men who are unsuccessful in love and sex.
Peterson: Because I was so active in that community for such a long time, it was maybe hard for me to recognize just how insane it was.
Kim (voiceover): Some estimates put the incel community at roughly 40,000 members. Young men often show up to incel forums looking for answers to their isolation. But instead, they’re led down a road of misogyny and racism. And sometimes, that road ends in violence.
[Elliot Rodger, in clip: And I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde slut. If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you. You denied me a happy life and, in turn, I will deny all of you life.]
Kim (voiceover): After that 2014 video, Elliot Rodger killed six people in Isla Vista, California. Rodger wanted to take revenge on the women who rejected him. He was one of three alleged mass murderers who were reportedly inspired by the incel community to take their vengeance out on women and society.
[CBC news clip: Police say he wrote the incel rebellion has already begun.]
[MSNBC news clip: It involves a dark, cyber underworld promoting and celebrating acts of violence.]
[ABC news clip: At least 10 people dead, seven other wounded, three critically.]
Kim (voiceover): To find out more, I went online to check out the incels myself.
Kim, to camera: Misogyny knows no bounds. And it is literally like a race to the bottom to see who can be the most pathetic and hateful. Wow, these guys are literally talking about what the best way to commit suicide would be. “Would a fentanyl OD be less painful than roping?” They post things that encourage each other to commit suicide basically. Wow. It’s like the darkest black hole of the internet right here.
Kim (voiceover): So how does someone get sucked into this world? Peterson first stumbled on the incel community when he was 17. He was bullied until he dropped out of high school and was shut away with little else but the internet.
Kim (voiceover): At his lowest moments, Peterson would post videos like this on YouTube to commiserate with other men who felt rejected by women.
Peterson: All of my negative experiences with women and people in general led me to a place where I felt like I didn’t fit in in the normal world. I found this online community of people who felt similarly to the way that I did.
Kim (voiceover): But the incel community isn’t exactly group therapy.
Peterson: It’s just a race to the bottom — a competition to see who has the most pathetic life.
Kim (voiceover): But Peterson thought that all this racism and hatred that he saw in the community was just dark humor.
Peterson: And the response I got from the incel community to me saying that was like, “No, you’re wrong man. We really do hate women, we really do want to kill people, like you’re totally off base there.”
Kim (voiceover): This is David Futrelle, who’s been tracking the men’s rights movement for years.
David Futrelle, writer: The basis of the movement is to try to vilify women and sort of lash out at women in as many ways as they can. And so even though they claim to be activists, it’s really a much more a nihilistic kind of acting out of male rage. They think that women are, you know, are inherently fickle and that they’re constantly branch-swinging. That’s what they say — to a higher branch with a more alpha guy.
Kim (voiceover): Reddit and other forums have tried banning and destroying incel communities altogether, and servers have shut down incel forums. But despite the attempts to force the community offline, some of the most popular incel forums keep cropping back up. So what happened with Peterson? After the Toronto van attack, reporters came looking for people like him to explain the incel phenomenon, which means he had to step out of his shell and actually leave the house.
Peterson: What happened was I was kind of kicked out of my front door in a way that hadn’t happened in years. Like, I was forced to go out, I was forced to actually communicate with people in the outside world. I just didn’t have it in me to be friendly with all these women and then go onto a forum where people talk about like, you know, beheading women in the streets and all this crazy nonsense.
Kim (voiceover): He’s even started dating.
Peterson: So recently I did meet some girls off Tinder. Finally I went on a date, like a week ago. The fact that I could do it and just have a conversation with a girl and like not lose my shit, I think, I’m pretty happy that I was able to do it, so.
Del Toro: And that’s it for another episode of Mic Dispatch, thanks for watching and see you next time.
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