The world’s first workable 3D-printed gun was successfully fired Saturday in Austin, Texas. The designs and blueprints for the gun -- named “Liberator” -- have been uploaded to the Internet, allowing anyone with access to a 3D printer and ABS plastics to produce his own firearm. While the creators of the Liberator hail the gun as a major advance for manufacturing and personal liberties, many fear this 3D printed technology falling into the wrong hands.
Sixteen of the gun’s 17 parts were assembled from plastics inside a Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer, which can be purchased on eBay for as little as $10,000. The firing pin, a common nail, is the only metal piece. The gun's production cost is only about $1,000.
The Liberator can only hold a single shot, is fairly inaccurate and blew to pieces when it fired a round larger than .380 caliber. Still, its impact is huge. It’s no longer a question of if 3D printing can produce a firearm, but when it will be a viable option.
Gun-control advocates worry this technology will allow criminals to produce guns that can pass unnoticed through a metal detector, and are already taking action.
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“We’re facing a situation where anyone – a felon, a terrorist – can open a gun factory in their garage and the weapons they make will be undetectable,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It’s stomach-churning.”
Just days after the first successful firing, Schumer and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., called for an expansion of the Undetectable Firearms Act to ban guns created by 3D printing. The bill, which expires this year, currently outlaws plastic guns that are undetectable.
To avoid committing a felony, Cody Wilson, the creator of the Liberator, added a six-ounce chunk of steel to the body and received a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to manufacture and sell guns. But with blueprints for the gun posted on the Internet for anyone to download for free, nothing is preventing a criminal from creating the gun illegally.
Wilson recognizes this, and added a disclaimer to the blueprints that warns non-licensed manufacturers against producing a firearm. But he doesn’t worry about the possibility of criminals using his plans.
“I recognize the tool might be used to harm other people – that’s what the tool is – it’s a gun,” Wilson told the BBC. “But I don’t think that’s a reason to not do it – or a reason to put it out there.”
For Wilson, a self-described crypto-anarchist, creating guns with 3D printing is more about personal freedom. His nonprofit corporation, Defense Distributed, says its aim is “to defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms” by publishing and distributing information on 3D printed guns. In addition to developing a fully printable firearm, Defense Distributed plans on adapting the design down to cheaper printers, which is a scary thought.
How do governments behave if they must one day operate on the assumption that any and every citizen has near-instant access to a firearm through the Internet? It seems we'll find out.