West Virginia Man Arrested for Making a 'Wall Hook' That Could Turn an AR-15 Into an Illegal Machine Gun

Illustration for article titled West Virginia Man Arrested for Making a Wall Hook That Could Turn an AR-15 Into an Illegal Machine Gun
Screenshot: portablewallhanger.com

A West Virginia man named Timothy Watson was arrested last week for allegedly selling a 3D-printed wall hook that, when disassembled, was actually a “drop-in auto sear,” a small piece of plastic that could turn the popular AR-15 rifle into an illegal machine gun.

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The product, still available at the excitingly-named portablewallhanger.com, consists of two 3D printed parts, which you can see in the photo above. When connected, the object looks kind of like a wall hook. When you remove the base, the hook can be placed inside an AR-15, according to federal authorities. The piece then prevents the trigger from locking in preparation for the next round and instead allows the hammer to fly pack and fire again automatically. This essentially turns a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic one.

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These sorts of workarounds aren’t unusual in gun fandoms. People have been making sears out of strings, wire hangers, and bent metal and 3D printing this piece, while illegal, is trivial. Gun fans, for their part, enjoy thumbing their noses at authorities by snorting that a piece of metal can’t be illegal. In every mention, however, they note that no one should do this at home unless, as one wag wrote, “you want ATF to come to your house and shoot your dog.”

In a criminal complaint, the FBI wrote:

As detailed below, the FBI’s investigation, assisted by the ATF and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, has revealed that Timothy John WATSON, hereinafter “WATSON,” a resident of Ranson, West Virginia, is the registrant of the website named “portablewallhanger.com.” Since at least in or about March 2020, the online retailer, “portablewallhanger.com,” purports to sell 3D printed innocuous hooks, made with two pieces, however, when disassembled, one of the pieces functions as an illegal drop in auto sear which has been confirmed by ATF to convert a semi automatic AR-iS into a fully-automatic machine gun.

According to investigators, Watson sold one of his hooks to a white supremacist named Steven Carrillo who is accused of shooting Santa Cruz police officers and two Oakland courthouse security guards in May and June. Carrillo is allegedly a member of the Boogaloo movement, a white supremacist faction bent on launching a second Civil War.

Beyond the obvious, a problem with 3D printed products like this one is the plastic, in its current form, is too weak and will break with constant use. While this particular product is easily replaceable, other DIY gunsmiths are milling entire lower receivers out of metal, which can be used to build an unregistered rifle.

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The resulting products generate a great deal of fear over the potential of 3D printed guns and lots of confusion about their limitations. What Watson was doing could be replicated by anyone with a piece of sheet metal and some tin snips. That he allegedly mass-produced these things and sold them under false pretenses—“Har har, just printing some wall hooks over here, guys!”is the real issue. The bottom line is this: People can 3D print illegal parts, but the more gun fanatics do this, the worse things become for 3D printing as an industry, not to mention anyone in their crosshairs.

John Biggs is a writer from Ohio who lives in Brooklyn. He likes books, board games, watches, and his dog. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

Dude, just wait until you find out about how nefarious coat hangers can be in the wrong hands: https://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2019/01/04/coat-hanger-machine-gun-dias-drop-in-auto-sear/

Now for some technical clarification for you:

The piece then prevents the trigger from locking in preparation for the next round and instead allows the hammer to fly pack and fire again automatically.

Not exactly. For starters, a trigger never “locks” in an AR, there is a trigger disconnector that prevents the hammer from dropping again while the trigger is held down from the preceding shot but it doesn’t “lock” anything, it just causes the action to hesitate until the trigger is release and pulled again. The way ARs work, removing the disconnector wouldn’t make it full-auto as the hammer would ride the bolt carrier back to battery robbing it of the necessary force to detonate a primer effectively which simply means the gun stops working until the hammer is re-cocked fully. You need something to grab that hammer, even just momentarily, for it to work properly. This is what auto-sears do.

A DIAS actually engages the hammer and prevents it from traveling forward with the bolt-carrier-group ensuring that there is sufficient energy for the hammer to detonate the primer on the round allowing the gun to fire. What the DIAS does is simply take the user and the disconnector out of the equation. Instead of waiting for the user to disengage and re-engage the trigger, the forward motion of the BCG trips the DIAS causing it to release the hammer once the bolt has returned to battery. At this point, there’s enough length of travel for the hammer to sufficiently impinge its stored energy upon the firing pin to cause the rifle to fire.

Is it easier to say “prevents the trigger from locking?” Sure. Is it correct? No.

Beyond the obvious, a problem with 3D printed products like this one is the plastic, in its current form, is too weak and will break with constant use. While this particular product is easily replaceable, other DIY gunsmiths are milling entire lower receivers out of metal, which can be used to build an unregistered rifle.

Hooray for misleading journalism!
In a very few states you have to serialize and register any firearm you make as an individual. However, the vast majority of states and the federal government don’t give a damn what you make so long as it complies to the NFA and all the proper forms (if any are needed) are filled out and taxes (again if subject to them) are paid. But why spend the time milling out a chunk of metal? You can create a perfectly usable AR-15 lower receiver out of wood, cast epoxy resin, or some sheet aluminum held together by bolts. Even then, you’re still creating a semi-automatic weapon using parts supplied by legitimate dealers. But this is nothing new. People have been building guns in their home workshops for years. That’s how the Owen SMG was created to serve Australia and other commonwealth nations in WWII. John Moses Browning got his start building stuff in a home workshop for crying out loud. It’s legal, if you’re not a prohibited person. As the war on drugs and the US’s experiment with the prohibition of alcohol should show you, preventing people from doing something illegal if they really want to do it is a fool’s errand. Case in point, Philip Luty. If 80% lower production in the US scares you, well, you’ll probably crap your pants if you follow this link: http://herohog.com/GunBuilds/Expedient_Homemade_Firearms-Vol_II_.32_.380_9mm%20Machine%20Pistol_PA_Luty.pdf

You don’t even need someone to do literally any of the work for you there (unlike the aforementioned 80% receivers you seem to be clutching pearls over). Have access to the local ACE Hardware? Hooooboy! Enjoy your fully functioning and fully-automatic SMG that won’t even raise flags when you’re purchasing your supplies.

What Watson was doing could be replicated by anyone with a piece of sheet metal and some tin snips. That he allegedly mass-produced these things and sold them under false pretenses—“Har har, just printing some wall hooks over here, guys!”—is the real issue. The bottom line is this: People can 3D print illegal parts, but the more gun fanatics do this, the worse things become for 3D printing as an industry, not to mention anyone in their crosshairs.

Which just goes to show how ludicrous the fear over things like this are. Truthfully the more that things like drop-in-auto-sears and the like are made public knowledge, the harder it is to put that genie back in the bottle. Why anyone would take the time and expense to manufacture them with a 3D printer over going the more durable route of a piece of sheet metal or a coat hanger is beyond me. You have more plausible deniability with the coat hanger.

And while yes, this certainly makes people slightly more suspicious as to the risk vs benefit of 3D printing, those people should be equally suspicious of tin snips, angle-grinders, Dremel tools, welding gear, and common aluminum and steel bar-stock and welding flats.

What is rather insulting about all of this though, is your final assertion that people are somehow in more danger because of this. They simply aren’t. The statistics will back that up 100%.