If there’s anything that gets 3D printing into the limelight of mainstream media, it’s printed guns. Cody Wilson’s original long-term stated goal for Defense Distributed was to produce a fully 3D printed gun that functions. His motivation and reasoning for pursuing the project is to defend the second amendment from gun control. Some thought it impossible and others said it was years away, so many were shocked when he successfully tested the first iteration of the Liberator.
The Department of State sent a takedown request (demand) of the entire site’s downloads pretty much immediately on the grounds that releasing the plans violates parts of the International Traffic in Arms Regulation relating to exporting firearms. So the American government is quite clear on the opinion that there are dangers concerning printable guns. The media mostly agreed, but others commented that plans for zip guns (improvised firearms) have been on the internet for years, so plans for printed guns doesn’t really increase accessibility to firearms. A few made the argument that the Liberator isn’t to be feared based on its poor performance and the fact that printing it requires an expensive 3D printer (Cody got his used model for $8,000).
Frankly, that’s bullshit. An anonymous engineer from Wisconsin that goes by “Joe” shot holes right through that assessment. Nine holes. See, before the files were taken down they were downloaded over 100,000 times, and now they’re being shared through torrents. So plenty of people have the files and pretty much everyone has access to them. Joe is one of them. He tweaked the design a bit by lengthening and rifling the barrel (the National Firearms Act regulates improvised firearms with smooth-bored barrels), and used normal metal screws instead of plastic pins to hold the hammer (he also included a non-operational chunk of metal to comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act). His version fired nine .380 bullets without exploding once.
It didn’t work perfectly; there were some misfires. But the real news here is that he printed it on a Lulzbot A0-101 personal printer that costs $1,725. Cody wanted the 3D printed gun to be able to come out of a RepRab, and the Lulzbot is just a tweaked Prusa Mendel (RepRap). That means printers that are even cheaper than the Lulzbot can print the Liberator. The printers are precise enough and ABS is sturdy enough. Cody’s dream has been realized.
Joe isn’t the only one modifying and printing the Liberator either. A software engineer in Maryland modified it to shoot .22 and .45 ammunition. That’s a fairly fast evolution cycle. Despite the government’s desires and efforts, the Liberator is growing up.