Earlier this month the company ‘Defense Distributed’ released the design for a 3D printable pistol. This announcement comes at a significant time. South of the border the debate over gun control has flared up after a series of fatal school shootings. The gun has been named the “Liberator” and has been released for anyone to download on the internet. The gun consists of 19 parts, fires a single .380 pistol cartridge, and requires that the entire barrel be replaced after each shot. It is crude by any modern weapon standards, yet it is deadly nonetheless. It can be printed on an eight thousand dollar 3D printer easily available to the public. Theoretically an unlimited number of guns could be produced by a single machine as long as the high grade plastic material is made available.
There are two security issues with the existence of this gun that are different than a standard firearm. The first is that it can be made by anyone without any skill required and can possibly be mass-produced to enter the black market. The second concern is that the gun would be mostly undetectable by standard metal detectors. Even though the ammunition would still be detectable there are already military versions of ceramic bullet casings. Of course this design is only the beginning. There is every reason to believe that 3D gun designs will continue to be improved, possibly allowing fully automatic weapons to be produced in the future within a civilian’s home. Defense Distributed has already released CAD designs for printable M-16 parts, although a full semi-automatic gun is not yet available.
The US government seized the information and requested the file be taken offline on May 8th. The US Department of Defense Trade Controls cited concerns that the file had violated ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) which restricts the exporting of arms to foreign nations. Although typically ITAR controls physical weapons, the restrictions have included cryptography information and spacecraft designs. Although foreign countries are usually annoyed at the restricting US policies, they might thank them for taking action in this instance. While a single shot pistol is not a formidable weapon by American standards, the file has been downloaded in many foreign countries including those with very strict firearm restrictions.
There are some who believe that the nature of this gun will change the face of gun control. Their hopes are that if the guns are readily available restricting them would become pointless. It could be argued that this is already the case in the US where the majority of gun crimes are done with illegally obtained weapons. Arguments pertaining to a violation of constitutional amendments are moot. Currently there are and have been laws restricting the distribution and production of firearms and that have been ruled in court as within the constitutional rights of the US government.
This controversy could put a damper on the dream of 3D printers being used at a household level. Many producers of three dimensional printers imagine a world where everything one needs can be purchased online and printed out at home. Unfortunately with the good comes the bad. The ability to produce weapons so easily isn’t a step in the right direction for a country that already suffers from pervasive gun violence.