3D Printed Guns Have Spread Internationally. Or Have They?

3D-printed guns are a relatively new invention. The first successfully 3D-printed gun was fired in the United States back in May, but since then there has been little noise about working 3D-printed guns being built. However, it seems that the plans for the 3D-printed gun – which were put online days before the prototype was fired – have made their way to England. In a recent raid, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) reportedly seized pieces they suspect could be used in the construction of a 3D printed hand gun.

As ominous as it sounds, the Greater Manchester Police’s Steve Heywood almost immediately walked back the bold claim, saying that “We need to be absolutely clear that at that this stage, we cannot categorically say we have recovered the component parts for a 3D gun. What we have seized are items that need further forensic testing by national ballistics experts to establish whether they can be used in the construction of a genuine, viable firearm.”

It seems now that the GMP’s detective work may have been a bit…shotty. The Times (paywall) is now reporting that the GMP’s audacious raid on a 3D gun factory in Manchester may have actually just been a man making cake decorations and extra pieces for his 3D printer. The GMP confiscated a few toy guns from the premises, but none were 3D printed weapons. Heywood added that the GMP will be attempting to see if the 3D pieces that were taken from the office match the blueprints of a widely distributed plan for a 3D-printable handgun. The GMP turned their heels on the possible false accusation, saying that this case opens a “wider debate about the emerging threat these next generation of weapons might pose.” But this may come as a…hollow point after this mistake.

But the possibility for a 3D printed gun is completely real. The blueprints for the original successful prototype, named The Liberator, and designed by Defense Distributed out of Texas, were downloaded 100,000 times in the course of two days. Now, Defense Distributed may sound like an intimidating corporation employing hundreds of shotgun-toting, beer bellied Texans driving huge Dodge trucks and shooting everything in sight, but in fact the company is one man named Cody Wilson – a 25 year old law student. See the video below to get a glimpse of Wilson’s gun being fired.

Really all Defense Distributed needs is one person, a 3D printer, and a living room. 3D printers, which cost anywhere from $1,000 and up, generally take up the same space as a microwave, and work by layering infinitely small layers of plastic (or similar substances) on top of one another to create objects. Wilson says that there is “a demand of guns – there just is. There are states all over the world that say you can’t own firearms – and that’s not true anymore. I’m seeing a world where technology says you can pretty much be able to have whatever you want. It’s not up to the political players anymore.” Wilson says in a different interview that “anywhere there’s a computer and an Internet connection, there would be the promise of a gun.”

This inherent ease of printing a weapon is a concern for authorities in countries and states that heavily regulate gun sales, such as the UK, New York and Washington, D.C. Defense Distributed has previously demonstrated that the most important piece to the AR-15, a gun used in multiple mass-shootings in the United States, can be successfully 3D printed and good for firing over 600 rounds without fail. This piece, the “lower receiver” is the most important component of the weapon, housing “all of the gun’s operating parts, including the trigger group and the magazine port.” In a district such as D.C., where owning or possessing an assault rifle is against the law, the allure of 3D printing a weapon is certainly there.

The only piece of The Liberator – the 3D-printed gun the GMP thought they had found – that is not plastic is the firing pin, which is made from metal. But once plastic firing pins are devised these weapons would be virtually untraceable by metal detectors. Cody Wilson says of the ability to print one’s own weapons that “this is about enabling individuals to create their own sovereign space…The government will increasingly be on the sidelines, saying ‘hey, wait’…It’s about creating the new order in the crumbling shell of the old order.”

img via Flickr

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