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article imageLiberator: First 3D-printed gun sparks gun control controversy

By JohnThomas Didymus     May 6, 2013 in Technology
Defense Distributed, a Texas-based group, has produced the world's first 3D-printed handgun. The group has made the blueprints available online and opened a new front in the ongoing gun control debate following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre .
Forbes reports that Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Texas, who founded the non-profit Defense Distributed, announced last year plans to build a 3D-printed gun and make the CAD files available to anyone to download and use to print the gun.
The Liberator CAD files are now available for download here.
Cody Wilson said: "I think a lot of people weren't expecting that this could be done."
Digital Journal reports that 3D-printing technology builds components and complex whole objects up in thin microscopic layers "allowing for an extremely flexible production process and high-precision control impossible to achieve in the traditional assembly line production process using sheet metal. Flexibility means that the production can be customized with the advantage of variety of patterns and structure..."
According to the BBC, Defense Distributed has spent a year working to create the firearm. It successfully tested it Saturday at a firing range south of Austin, Texas (see video above).
The successful testing and debut of the gun is raising an uproar among anti-gun campaigners. The birth of the "Liberator," as the new gun is ironically called, is being greeted with mixed feelings given the recent spate of gun violence in the country of its birth, the United States. The creators of the gun have come under criticism from many who think that 3D printing, a technology with revolutionary potentials, could have been used for other purposes.
However, some are taking a fatalistic attitude to the creation of the "Liberator," saying it is inevitable that someone will create the gun in the long run.
The BBC reports that Europe's law enforcement agency says it is monitoring the new startling developments. According to the BBC, Victoria Baines, from Europol's cybercrime center, noted that although criminals were more likely to try to obtain guns from "traditional routes," as "time goes on and as this technology becomes more user friendly and more cost effective, it is possible that some... risks will emerge."
Liberator: 3D-printed gun
Liberator: 3D-printed gun
Defense Distributed/Forbes
Proponents hope that as 3D-printers become cheaper, consumers will simply download printable blueprints for products to print at home, instead of buying goods from shops.
The gun was assembled from printed components made from ABS plastic. The only non-plastic component is a nail that is used as a firing pin and a six-ounce piece of steel included to allow the gun to be detected by metal detectors in compliance with the Undetectable Firearms Act (PDF).
According to Forbes, all the sixteen pieces of the prototype were printed with ABS plastic using Dimension SST printer from the 3D printing company Stratasys.
Engadget notes that a major twist in the design of the gun is the use of vaporized acetone to reduce friction between the polymer components within the barrel.
The video above shows the gun undergoing testing. The test was successful. According to Forbes, the gun misfired in a previous test when the firing pin failed to hit the cartridge's primer cap.
"Liberator" is able to fire standard handgun rounds and it may be connected to different barrels, thus allowing use of ammunition of various calibers.
Defense Distributed
Forbes states what is obvious when it notes that users of the blueprint may not comply with the requirements of the Undetectable Firearms Act once it is available online and anyone can have access to download and print a gun with "no serial number, background check, or other regulatory hurdles."
Wilson acknowledges the implications of the scenario: "You can print a lethal device. It’s kind of scary, but that’s what we’re aiming to show."
He does not hide his motive for releasing the printable blueprints of the gun: He is aiming to thwart gun laws. According to Forbes, Defense Distributed has worked since it was founded in August last year to make as many gun components, such as high capacity ammunition magazines for AR-15s and AK-47s, available in printable files and make them available online as part of efforts to make gun control laws irrelevant by deliberating blurring the distinction between firearms regulation and the legal issues of freedom of information.
Defense Distributed s Liberator undergoing testing
Defense Distributed's Liberator undergoing testing
The move was guaranteed to spark immediate controversy in the circumstances of the debate over gun control legislation in the US. In October last year, the 3D-printing company Stratasys seized a printer it had rented to the group after it learned that it was going to use it to print guns and components
New York Congressman Steve Israel, responded to the moves by introducing a bill to add new provisions to the Undetectable Firearms Act that target 3D-printed guns and components.
According to the BBC, Congressman Steve Israel issued a press release Friday in response to latest developments: "Security checkpoints, background checks, and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print plastic firearms at home and bring those firearms through metal detectors with no one the wiser. When I started talking about the issue of plastic firearms months ago, I was told the idea of a plastic gun is science-fiction. Now that this technology is proven, we need to act now to extend the ban [on] plastic firearms."
But the opposition has only fired Wilson's youthful sense of a mission to accomplish. He said: "Everyone talks about the 3D printing revolution. Well, what did you think would happen when everyone has the means of production? I’m interested to see what the potential for this tool really is. Can it print a gun?"
The BBC reports Wilson describes himself as a "crypto-anarchist," and idealized is plan to make the printable files available online as being in defense of "liberty."
He told the BBC: "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 any more."
When he was asked how he felt with the knowledge that the guns may fall into the wrong hands, he said :"I recognize the tool might be used to harm other people - that's what the tool is - it's a gun. But I don't think that's a reason to not do it - or a reason not to put it out there."
Wilson has received a manufacturing and seller's licence from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the BBC reports.
An ATF official Donna Sellers, said that 3D-printed guns were legal. She said: "[In the US], a person can manufacture a firearm for their own use. However, if they engage in the business of manufacture to sell a gun, they need a licence."
Anti-gun activists are expressing concern. The BBC reports Leah Gunn Barrett, from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said: "These guns could fall into the hands of people who should not have guns - criminals, people who are seriously mentally ill, people who are convicted of domestic violence, even children."
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