Current Issue
May 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Keeping you current

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone 3D-Prints a Gun

The 3D printing gun idea has taken off, but Stratasys, the company who's printers are being used, isn't exactly happy about it. They want their printers back

The lower on this gun was made with a 3D printer. Image: HaveBlue

Earlier this year, someone took 3D printing to the logical, if extreme, next step: weapons. The 3D printing gun idea has taken off, but Stratasys, the company that makes the printers being used, isn’t exactly happy about it. They want their printers back.

A few months ago, on a gun forum, someone with the username HaveBlue posted pictures of an AR lower that he printed using a Stratasys 3D printer. Eventually he assembled a .22 caliber pistol using that lower. Not only did he print it, he shot it. And it worked. He writes, “No, it did not blow up into a bazillion tiny plastic shards and maim me for life – I am sorry to have disappointed those of you who foretold doom and gloom.”

The plans for that lower are freely available online, and a few months later Cody Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas, formed a group “Defense Distributed” and planned to launch a “Wiki Weapon Project.” The premise was to come up with a design that anyone could download and print. They tried to raise money on IndiGogo, a site for crowd-sourced funding, but the site quickly shut them down and returned the money to their supporters.

But the project has still gained a lot of money from investors. “Wiki Weapon project has received $12k, as well as the promise from one angel investor to match all contributions received above $10k dollar to dollar. There are some big offers potentially coming down in the week upcoming as well. We’ve begun prototyping as well,” Cody Wilson told Betabeat.

Now, Stratasys, the company who makes the 3D printer that Wilson is using, wants their printers back. They’ve sent a letter to Defense Distributed, claiming that Wilson is breaking the law by printing these guns without a federal firearms manufacturer’s license.

Whether or not it’s legal to print a gun is up in the air. Wired reports:

“The laws were written assuming people could make their own guns … the law still does regulate and restrict that,” Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, tells Danger Room. Guslick likely didn’t violate any laws surrounding the manufacturing of the gun without a license, as it’s only for personal use. If he attempted to sell the pistol, or opened up a factory producing the weapons, he’d need authorization from the government.

For now, there’s still considerable difficulty when it comes to actually printing a workable gun. The gun that HaveBlue fired only had a 3D printed lower, but much of the gun wasn’t printed. A fully printed weapon hasn’t been shot yet. But eventually, 3D printed guns will be a reality, experts say. New Scientist writes:

Still, as prices for more sophisticated printers fall, printing functional weapons is likely to become an affordable prospect. When that happens, governments will be faced with a decision. Could they lean on internet service providers to seek out and delete gun design files as they circulate online, as some ISPs are now asked to police music and movie file-sharing?

What then? Well, no one really knows.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Smithsonian’s Gun Room
In 2010 $600 Million in Guns and Ammo Were Exported from the US

Tags
About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus