NEW YORK — A puppet specialist with the Broadway musical “The Lion King” was arrested at the Minskoff Theater last week after he was found inside the prop room manufacturing a 3-D printed gun, according to court records.
Vett, 47, was listed as puppet dayworker in the Playbill for “The Lion King,” the long-running Broadway show that features a spectacular array of costumes and puppets that help bring the animal kingdom alive.
The police said that company security officials found the gun — or a part of it — when they entered Vett’s office Friday. Disney’s human resources department then informed the police that Vett might have been printing a firearm, the authorities said.
Vett, of Brooklyn, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Monday evening, but according to a criminal complaint, he told a detective that the 3-D printer he used was his own and that he had been “making the gun as a gift” for his brother, who lives “upstate and has a firearms license.”
In New York, it is illegal for an unlicensed person to 3-D print an assault weapon, pistol or revolver.
Disney Theatrical declined to comment Monday. A person with direct knowledge of the situation said that Vett was no longer employed by the company. He appears to have been part of “The Lion King” since at least 2008.
In the complaint, Officer James Taylor of the New York Police Department said that after he arrived at the theater, he saw a 3-D printer, which had a secure digital card inserted in its side. The printer, he said, was “powered on, moving, and in operation.”
“I observed that the 3-D printer was producing a hard black plastic object which, based on my training and experience, is shaped like a revolver,” he wrote in the complaint.
Vett, who was subsequently arrested and charged, told a detective that he had found the blueprints for printing the gun online and had “downloaded the plans onto the SD card in the printer.”
The arrest happened amid a national debate over the legality of 3-D printed guns, which has been largely driven by the efforts of gun rights activist Cody Wilson. For more than five years, Wilson has argued that the First Amendment allows him to publish blueprints for downloadable guns online.
In July, the State Department agreed and gave Wilson the right to distribute his blueprints. But the same month, 19 states filed a lawsuit against him, leading a federal judge to block Wilson from moving forward with his plans. Wilson said he planned to appeal the decision.
At the end of the month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued a cease and desist letter to Defense Distributed, Wilson’s nonprofit organization, aimed at blocking the distribution of plans for 3-D guns in New York state. Cuomo also issued a notice reminding New Yorkers of the laws related to possessing and manufacturing guns.
In a 2008 New York Times article, Vett described being backstage when he received alarming news about the character Pumbaa having “lost his butt.” Vett discovered that the puppet’s aluminum spine had snapped, so he quickly created a replacement spine out of special tape, which he hardened under a lamp.
“The execution and design is still so progressive that no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn,” he said at the time.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Matt Stevens © 2018 The New York Times