3D printers can create anything. But there is a limit to this freedom. And it is a limit that can make a difference, especially when it comes to weapons. It’s all going on in the United States, where the Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to bear arms. But what if the designs for a plastic gun go around the world via the Internet and end up in the wrong hands?
The issue is becoming complicated. The weapon in question is called the Liberator, and Forbes magazine has gone to find its inventors in Austin, Texas. They are a group of young people who gave birth to Defense Distributed, an association that supports the “Wiki Weapon Project” and the unlimited 3D printing of firearms.
The Liberator is a gun made up of 16 plastic parts that can fire one 7.62 mm bullet at a time. After each use, the weapon must be manually reloaded, and its does not yet operate flawlessly. Indeed, when more powerful bullets are fired, the weapon can still jam or explode.
As is the case for other makers, the creators of the Liberator held a crowdfunding campaign on the Indiegogo platform in order to finance the Wiki Weapon. However, the collection of funds was cancelled in August 2012 by the service providers, who were opposed to the idea of supporting firearms. Despite the setback, field trials have been continuing, as the 25-year-old founder, Cody Wilson, explained to Wired.
“We used 60 to 70 different springs, not all separate designs, but just trial and error. We cannibalized a spring off a toy on Thingiverse, a wind-up car toy.”
And so, on 5 May 2013, the Liberator CAD was released online to be downloaded freely. After a few days – and about 100,000 downloads, according to the developers – the file was blocked and removed by operators following the intervention of the Department of State.
According to the Commodity Jurisdiction the Liberator is currently an unregistered weapon; i.e. before it can be disseminated, it must pass through a Department of State assessment procedure. One “trigger” for the ban was, in particular, the fact that the gun can be made by anyone with a 3D printer.
In this case, the makers’ liberties may be harmful. Distributed Defense has a valid licence to produce weapons in the U.S. without exporting them, such that the original Liberator model includes a metal insert and a serial number which makes the gun traceable. But the CAD broadcast by the Texans may be amended by deleting the identifier and replacing the metal with normal plastic. And it can go around the world with a single click.
But the story does not end here. The Defense Distributed blog shows the letter in which the Department of State suspended the distribution of Liberator files and other accessories of violence. This is not a complete ban, but a temporary block during which Wilson and his team will have to prove that the 3D-printed gun complies with U.S. law.
Europe, however, has more restrictive laws: simply take a look at the GunPolicy portal for evidence of this. If someone were to print a Liberator in a European country, they would probably not get away with filling out a simple form.