Just to establish a baseline of what we’re talking about here, any of you who regularly watch shows like How it’s Made, Modern Marvels or any of the other science and technology offerings on cable probably already know about 3-D printing. (One of the featured manufacturers of these machines has a nice video tutorial on it.) Basically, a 3-D model is designed and the “printer” lays down one layer after another of material until the model is produced. And some of these machines are already getting down to the affordable range.
So what would you do if you got one? Well, if you’re Cody Wilson, you’d print a gun of course. Forbes has the exclusive.
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.
Here’s a picture of the piece, provided by Forbes.
Now, if you’re the same kind of sensitive, caring person as me, you’re probably sitting there thinking the same thing I was. “That is totally awesome. I have got to get me one of these.” But this does bring up some dicey subjects. Cody Wilson has been working on this project since last summer – obviously just to make a point that I’m not all that concerned about – and he seems to have pretty much pulled it off in a relatively short period. (Forbes has a good summary of the whole back story at the link.) But I get the impression he was never expecting a fool proof product on the first go.
“We want to show this principle: That a handgun is printable,” says Wilson, a 24-year-old second-year law student at the University of Texas. “You don’t need to be able to put 200 rounds through it…It only has to fire once. But even if the design is a little unworkable, it doesn’t matter, as long as it has that guarantee of lethality.”
As far as I’m concerned, 3-D printing technology is absolutely awesome. It may be the first step on the road to replicators. The number of up-sides to this are probably too numerous to count, since early stage manufacturing for some small businesses who are just starting out might be a lot more affordable. But we have to deal with the fact that the technology is now – or very shortly will be – cranking out guns. Dr. Joyner seems to agree.
… [O]nce this technology becomes more affordable and widespread—and that’s going to happen very, very soon—it’s going to make a lot of existing laws obsolete.
Indeed, there are already attempts to regulate the technology:
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?”
The very nature of the technology would seem to make it next to impossible to regulate.
As technology expands in any area of endeavor, things change. As prices drop and availability increases, the idea of some single set of well regulated manufacturers acting as gatekeepers of tools becomes more and more problematic. And now that seems to be happening in the field of manufacturing complex mechanisms. Yet again, people will be asking us… what do we do about this? I have no idea. But that genie is out of the bottle now, folks.