We have seen a lot of amazing applications for 3D printing, but there is one particular application that has overshadowed some of the more positive uses, and that is the 3D printing of firearms. 3D printed guns aren’t necessarily a bad thing, in the wrong hands they certainly can be. Unfortunately the media has picked up a couple rather innocent stories pertaining to such fabrication, and used them to portray the future of the technology as being part sinister.
This all started with a man named Cody Wilson who uploaded the design for a 3D printable gun called the ‘Liberator’ online. In doing so, he got the attention of the State Department in the United States who demanded the uploaded files and instructions be taken down. At this point it was much too late, as hundreds of thousands of people had already downloaded the content needed to fabricate the Liberator.
Since then, there have been numerous reports of 3D printed guns being produced, from all areas of the world. In fact, a university official in Japan was arrested when he was found to have produced five different guns on his 3D printer. The laws are different here in the United States, and also vary state by state. There have been no major headlines about crimes or arrests made pertaining to 3D printed guns in the States. Having said this, we are still left with a few very interesting questions, that a man named Brett Kuxhausen has searched for the answers to, in his short documentary called ‘The Power to Print‘.
How easy is it for an individual like Kuxhausen, who is a teaching assistant and student at Montana State University, with little to no gun experience, to 3D print, and assemble a gun, and how will a Police officer react to him bringing his quasi legal 3D print to the station for an opinion?
The film starts with Kuxhausen trying to figure out where he can go to see the 3D printing side of the project completed. After a fair amount of searching, he finally finds the Montana Ethical Hackers group which allowed him to use their printers to print the 15 parts needed for the Liberator gun. After approximately 18 hours of print time, the parts were all ready to be assembled. Since he didn’t use a top-of-the-line machine, the parts required a bit of refining like filing and trimming to ensure the pieces fit together properly.
The general assembly seemed to be quite easy, considering Kuxhausen’s lack of gun assembling experience. He managed to put all 15 pieces together properly, prior to adding in the 16th and final piece, a block of steel weighing at least 3.8 ounces. The steel has no purpose other to make the gun ‘legal’ according to the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which states that a certain amount of steel needs to be in a gun for it to be considered ‘detectable’.
At this point, Kuxhausen’s gun was complete, and according to an attorney he spoke to, likely legal. Now it was time to bring it into the Bozeman Montana Police Department, and hope that they wouldn’t arrest him upon arrival. At the department he sat down and showed the 3D printed gun to SGT Jason Lacross, who is very familiar with the inner workings of firearms. The overall sentiment of Lacross was that the pistol very well could work properly, but there were several safety issues he was concerned about, issues which presented a very good chance of injuring any person who would try and fire the weapon.
“Just because the weapon will shoot doesn’t mean it will be safe to shoot,” explained Lacross. “You could get injured pretty bad with something like that.”
The main issues that Bozeman found with the gun was that the firing pin hole was rather large, meaning that gases could escape back in the direction of the person firing it. Additionally, since the barrel of the weapon was made from plastic, it likely does not have the strength to constrain the explosion that takes place within the chamber during firing.
The full documentary can be seen here. It is a clear indication of just how easily a random person with no major gun experience could download the files and instructions off of a file sharing website, and have a working pistol within a day. Whether they would want to ever risk using that pistol is another story. As the materials used within these printers advance, and so do the printers themselves, there is no doubt that a functioning gun, safe to its user, will be printed sometime soon.