As candidates prepare for the 2016 presidential election, gun control remains a core issue, especially among gun rights advocates who see it as another means of unnecessary government regulation. Following a series of school shootings and other assaults made with firearms in recent years, the Obama administration proposed legislation requiring more stringent background checks from private sellers and licensed gun dealers, before guns can be legally purchased in the states.
Despite increased regulations, new developments in 3d printing technology, such as the 3d printed gun, have bypassed much of the new gun control mechanisms set in place to detour unlicensed gun ownership, limiting the government’s ability to track mass gun production and proprietary technical information needed to make them.Concluding an intelligence memo released by the Department of Homeland Security in 2013, the agency announced that “limiting access may be impossible” for 3d printer files intended for the manufacturing for 3d printed guns.
Once thought of as future technology, 3D printed guns are already widely available and can be accessed as easily as downloading a 3d blueprint and plugging inputs into a 3d printer, signaling a new frontier for digital gunsmiths in the online gun community.
Liberator: The First Operable 3D Printed Gun of It’s Kind
Developed in 2013 by Defense Distributed, the Liberator was one of the first 3d printed guns to be mass produced, bringing instant attention from mass media sources as well as law enforcement agencies hoping to derail an emerging industry that is nearly undetectable.
“The broad recognition of this idea seemed to flip a switch in peoples’ minds…We knew that people would make this their own.” -Cody Wilson, Founder of Defense Distributed
Developed using an outdated Stratasys 3d printer purchased for $8,000, the single shot design of the Liberator proved that plastic weapons manufacturing was indeed possible, sparking continued interest and innovation from digital gunsmiths everywhere, hoping to refine the first operable 3d printed gun model.
The Innovation of 3D Printed Gun Designs
Right after the Liberator fired it’s first shots, similar 3d printed gun models began showing up across the internet including a cheaper version of the Liberator made by a man in Wisconsin, which fired a total of eight .38 caliber bullets without damaging the gun. Created from a $1,725 Lulzbot 3d printer which used less than $25 in plastic resin materials to produce, this new design showed that deadly 3d printed weapons could be produced with far less money than those of conventional firearms.
The Lulz Liberator
Taking 3d printed gun designs up a notch, the first known 3d printed rifle was made two months after the Lulz Liberator. Known as the Grizzly, this gun can shoot multiple rounds of .22 caliber bullets and was made using a Stratasys Dimension 1200ES industrial 3d printer. Inspired by the success of the Liberator, this gun, also requiring a reload after every shot, showed the versatility of crafting specialized gun models from 3d printers.
The next gun model to spark innovation in the 3d printed gun world was designed by a 27 year old man in Japan named Yoshitomo Imura. Crafted from a $500 dollar 3d printer from Japan, this model is known as the Zig Zag Revolver, named after the German Mauser Zig Zag handgun, and can fire six more shots than the Liberator without reloading. Although Imura was eventually taken into custody by authorities for illegally possessing firearms, his 3d printed gun innovation proves once again the power of low cost 3d printed gun manufacturing as well as the inability of law enforcement to track and cease production of them.
The Zig Zag Revolvler
The Government’s Fear of FOSSCAD: Free Open Source Software & Computer Aided Design
Riding the surge of popularity inspired by the first design of the Liberator, Defense Distributed’s founder Cody Wilson went back to the drawing board with his team of digital gunsmiths, known as FOSSCAD: Free Open Source Software & Computer Aided Design.
Building on innovation from previous gun designs , FOSSCAD distributes and shares a wide range of 3d printed weapon designs including handguns, multi-round handguns, derringers, rifles, components to assemble semi-automatic weapons, as well as a host of explosives and weapons that have yet to be tested.
Despite law enforcement agencies claiming that 3d printed gun manufacturing is in violation of countless acts and mandates established by the government, 3d printed gun blue prints are still being circulated online.
Recently, after being asked to take down blue prints that were in violation of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a lawsuit was filed by Cody Wilson and the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) against the State Department. Siding with a majority of the online gun community, Wilson and (SAF) believe that exchanging information about how to manufacture firearms online is protected under the second amendment, adding flames to the ongoing debate as to how the government should regulate the distribution of technical information needed to manufacture weapons. With a verdict yet to be concluded and Wilson facing millions of dollars in fines after being put on the State Department’s radar, only time will tell how the government will respond to a community that’s practically untraceable thanks to modern 3d printing technology.