Eight months ago, Cody Wilson set out to create the world’s first entirely 3D-printable handgun.
Now he has.
Early next week, Wilson, a 25-year University of Texas law student and founder of the non-profit group Defense Distributed, plans to release the 3D-printable CAD files for a gun he calls “the Liberator,” pictured in its initial form above. He’s agreed to let me document the process of the gun’s creation, so long as I don’t publish details of its mechanics or its testing until it’s been proven to work reliably and the file has been uploaded to Defense Distributed’s online collection of printable gun blueprints at Defcad.org.
All sixteen pieces of the Liberator prototype were printed in ABS plastic with a Dimension SST printer from 3D printing company Stratasys, with the exception of a single nail that’s used as a firing pin. The gun is designed to fire standard handgun rounds, using interchangeable barrels for different calibers of ammunition.
Technically, Defense Distributed’s gun has one other non-printed component: the group added a six ounce chunk of steel into the body to make it detectable by metal detectors in order to comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act. In March, the group also obtained a federal firearms license, making it a legal gun manufacturer.
Of course, Defcad’s users may not adhere to so many rules. Once the file is online, anyone will be able to download and print the gun in the privacy of their garage, legally or not, with no serial number, background check, or other regulatory hurdles. “You can print a lethal device,” Wilson told me last summer. “It’s kind of scary, but that’s what we’re aiming to show.”
Since it was founded last August, Wilson’s group has sought to make as many components of a gun as possible into printable blueprints and to host those controversial files online, thwarting gun laws and blurring the lines between the regulation of firearms and information censorship. So far those pieces have included high capacity ammunition magazines for AR-15s and AK-47s, as well as an AR lower receiver, the body of that semi-automatic rifle to which off-the-shelf components like a stock and barrel can be attached.
Those early experiments have made Cody Wilson into one of the most controversial figures in the 3D printing community. In October of last year, Stratasys seized a printer it had rented to Defense Distributed after the company learned how its machine was being used. New York congressman Steve Israel has responded to Defense Distributed’s work by introducing a bill that would renew the Undetectable Firearms Act with new provisions aimed specifically at 3D printed components. In January, personal 3D printing firm Makerbot removed all gun components from Thingiverse, its popular site for hosting users’ printable designs.
All of that opposition has only made Wilson more eager to prove the possibility of a 3D printed firearm. “Everyone talks about the 3D printing revolution. Well, what did you think would happen when everyone has the means of production?” Wilson asked when we spoke earlier in the week. “I’m interested to see what the potential for this tool really is. Can it print a gun?”
It seems that it can.
Stay tuned for more. In the mean time, here’s another photo of Defense Distributed’s prototype.
Click to enlarge. (credit: Michael Thad Carter for Forbes)
Update: Defense Distributed’s political opponents aren’t waiting around for its printable gun to be finished and uploaded before calling for it to be banned. Congressman Steve Israel issued a press release Friday responding to this story: “Security checkpoints, background checks, and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print plastic firearms at home and bring those firearms through metal detectors with no one the wiser,” his statement reads. “When I started talking about the issue of plastic firearms months ago, I was told the idea of a plastic gun is science-fiction. Now that this technology is proven, we need to act now to extend the ban [on] plastic firearms.”
Follow me on Twitter, and check out my new book, This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks and Hacktivists Aim To Free The World’s Information.