3D printing has become the new popular technology that will change the way we live according to its fans. Soon, the average American will be able to print out your own plastic toys and other objects for personal use, but one use in particular is catching the eyes of Congress. In response to the news that a 3D-printed gun called the "Liberator" will have its plans posted online, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it was "stomach-churning."
3D-printed guns represent a new frontier for the technology. Previously 3D printing was used by a variety of people, from enthusiasts using DIY kits to print knockoff Legos to highly trained medical personal using high grade 3D printers to make customized prosthetics. But with the first 3D-printed weapon, we have arrived at a first point were lawmakers may take notice of the technology in detail.
To be fair, while an impressive piece of engineering, as a weapon the Liberator does not inspire confidence. Made of white ABS plastic, it fires a single .380 pistol round before reloading. The .380 is a round of which gun author Massad Ayoob says "Some experts will say it's barely adequate, and others will say it's barely inadequate [for self defense]." The barrel of the gun could only last through ten rounds of .380 before breaking. In response to this condition, the barrel can be changed quickly. The accuracy of the gun has not been established yet.
The makers of the gun attempted to fire a larger FN 5.7 x 28mm round with the gun. When this was attempted the gun exploded. Below are videos of successful attempts at firing the Liberator with the .380 round remotely and by hand:
Defense Distributed, the company that developed the Liberator, utilized a much higher-end 3D printer then most home enthusiasts have: an $8,000 Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer. It is a closed printer that can keep its printing chamber at a higher temperature than the outside air, a patented method by Stratasys to improve the plastics resiliency. Most enthusiasts' printers have open-printing chambers which are not as high quality as the Stratasys. Cody Wilson, the inventor of the Liberator, says that his next focus will be on adapting the process for cheaper 3rd printers. This has not stopped him from posting the design files for the gun online.
Senator Schumer has proposed a bill that would renew the ban guns that are undetectable in metal detectors and update it to include 3D-printed weapons. Representative Steve Israel is introducing similar legislation in the House. It is expected to face little opposition, as it is the renewal of a measure that is already law. The Liberator has two metal parts, a firing pin made of a hardware store hail and a six-ounce chunk of steel inserted into the gun to make detectable to metal detectors and compliant with the law.
While I doubt that the Liberator will be utilized as anything more then a curiosity by even its most devoted fans, it does show that 3D printing will have consequences that were never envisioned by its creators. As this technology improves, expect to see law enforcement and government take a closer look at what is emerging in the field.