Earlier this year a group of American firearms enthusiasts demonstrated the first 3D printed gun, which caused quite a stir despite the fact that the weapon itself was rubbish.
First of all it wasn’t exactly practical and bleeding heart liberals were quick to point out that it could evade metal detectors, conveniently forgetting that bullets tend to contain plenty of copper, lead and brass.
The State Department promptly ordered everyone to delete all 3D files related to the gun, forgetting that kindly asking the internet to delete something doesn’t really work.
New York City’s lawmakers than tried to push through legislation that would render the production of 3D printers illegal, unless the producers are licensed gunsmiths. Of course, copying movies and music is also illegal and we all know how well banning that works.
For Europeans the whole mess was rather amusing, but they eventually decided to join the fun. Danish 3D printing outfit Create it REAL came up with a simple software solution that would identify any attempt to print 3D gun components and stop the printer cold.
The software looks for specific firearms characteristics and since any 3D gun would have to use off-the-shelf ammunition, this should be possible to do. For example, the printer could detect a shape chambered for popular cartridges, or other components such as magazines, receivers and so on. It’s not like everyone needs 9mm printed tubes or strange plastic containers for 5.45x45mm rounds, with some springs at the bottom.
Of course, the approach is not foolproof, as all sorts of software can be tampered with, but it’s a start.
The company acknowledges that the feature is intended to prevent people from “accidentally” printing a gun, so it sounds like a way of deflecting liability, reports Tech Dirt.
Defense Distributed, the world’s first maker of 3D-printed guns, has managed to obtain a federal license to manufacture and market firearms in the US.
The cheeky and controversial outfit has gotten plenty of coverage in recent months, as many observers expressed fears that 3D-printed weapons could prove tough to regulate. However, since anyone with a pulse and a body temperature in excess of 35 degrees Celsius can already get an assault rifle in the Land of The Free, we really don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
Getting a proper licence could help Defense Distributed shake the largely negative public perception. Now it is a legitimate gun maker, and gun makers don’t take a lot of flak in the States. That’s what the National Rifle Association is for. It takes the heat and gets the limelight, while at the same time few people can name a single exec in the industry. On the other hand, NRA Chairman Wayne LaPierre is a household name.
However, although it now has a federal licence, Defense Distributed has a long way to go before it can churn out complete guns using solely 3D-printed bits, like its open source Wiki gun. It is focusing on specific components instead, such as receivers, grips and high capacity magazines. The latter are perhaps the most controversial. Any legislative effort to limit the capacity of magazines could be rendered pointless if anyone with access to a 3D printer is able to download and print a high capacity magazine.
Defense Distributed openly mocks the ongoing gun debate in the US. The outfit chose to name its high-capacity magazine prototypes “Cuomo” and “Feinstein”, in honour of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Dianne Feinstein, two fairly outspoken advocates of gun control. In fact, Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco after mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk were gunned down by a rival politician in City Hall. Feinstein was one of the first people on the scene and she even tried to plug Milk’s wounds with her bare hands.
With that in mind, naming a high-capacity rifle magazine “Feinstein” sounds rather tasteless. However, it should be noted that Defense Distributed is incorporated in Texas, parts of which could be considered a Mecca of bad taste.
The US is in the midst of a heated gun control debate and the Obama administration is pushing several proposals aimed at curbing gun violence. Aside from seemingly insurmountable political challenges, the plans could also be undermined by advances in 3D printer technology.
In what can be considered brilliant yet awful timing, Austin-based Defense Distributed recently posted a video showing off a 3D-printed 30-round clip in action, Business Insider reports. The printed mag was displayed in an AR series assault rifle, but it’s worth noting that the AR series uses standard NATO STANAG magazines, which means the printed magazine is compatible with a wide range of 5.56x45mm weapons used around the world.
The implications of using 3D printers to churn out rifle magazines are profound. One of the key proposals in the gun control debate is a ban on high capacity assault rifle magazines, which could now be circumvented by anyone with access to a decent 3D printer and a few CAD files. Such a ban would be practically impossible to enforce.
Of course, the government could outright ban the manufacture of 30-round magazines, but such a ban would be rather pointless, as the necessary technology is already there and criminals don’t usually follow the letter of the law.
3D printers have been used in the past to print certain handgun parts and even entire handguns, with mixed results. However, printing a simple magazine is not exactly as demanding as printing a 9mm barrel. The technology works and it can’t be un-invented.
As Defense Distributed told the world its 3D gun printing business may be ready for launch by the end of the year, one Congressman is urging a blanket ban for open sourced firearms.
The idea behind the technology is to share blueprints for plastic weaponry that people will be able to download for free and ‘print’ using a 3D printer.
Rep Steve Israel, BoingBoing pointed out, is concerned that the weapons will not be subject to the usual checks, that is, they will be easy to sneak through metal detectors.
MeetThe112th reports Israel cited the Undetectable Firearms Act, in 1988, when the idea of being able to print a weapon was purely fantasy. It’s going to expire December next year, and Israel believes with the advent of downloadable guns, it needs another renewal.
“It is just a matter of time before these three-dimensional printers will be able to replicate an entire gun,” Israel said. “And that firearm will be able to be brought through this security line, through the metal detector, and because there will be no metal to be detected, firearms will be brought on planes without anyone’s knowledge.”
Suffolk county police chief James Burke warned that as prices for 3D printers get cheaper, he predicts more guns “in our children’s bedrooms, in basements and in dorm rooms” – suggesting that having access to weapons in a country with 88.8 firearms per 100 people will immediately lead to more gun crime.
It is a shame that so much attention has been given to the so-called ‘wiki weapon’, and not other potential uses for 3D printing, including, among other things, the ability to print medicine.
Instead of putting technological know-how towards bringing about a post-scarcity society where need is eliminated through Star-Trek esque replicators, gun nuts at Defense Distributed are fighting for America’s right to keep and bear arms – claiming a prototype for the 3D-printed plastic weapons may be ready before the end of this year.
Spokesperson Cody Wilson told the Guardian that his company is just sitting on logistics, time, resources, and money – and is just now waiting to get the nod for a federal firearms licence, a permit required for building weapons in the US.
Although the company that was planning to lease its printer, Stratasys, repossessed the device, two Texan – where else? – companies offered their space for ballistics testing, while there is another firm that is now renting a 3D printer to Defense Distributed, although the spokesperson refused to name it.
Defense Distributed itself is applying to beome a nonprofit, describing itself as charitable public interest publishing – basically distributing weapons blueprints online for free, while a research company called Liberty Laboratories plans to build and trial the guns. Another will manage the finances.
The Guardian reports that as soon as Defense Distributed gets its federal firearms licence, the group is going to build prototype weapons as soon as possible, on the back of up to five blueprints independent designers submitted to the company.
Along with the libertarian, gun-touting vision of Defense Distributed, scientists at the University of Glasgow boasted earlier this year that it may also be possible to print your own drugs not too far in the future.