It was the summer of 2012 when the first news of a 3D-printed gun surfaced, an assault rifle-style .22 that appeared on a message board devoted to the love of firearms. That weapon was believed to be the first 3D-printed gun successfully fired, but its fame was short lived, with The Liberator having caught popular attention soon after for being the first fully 3D-printed firearm. After being successfully fired, the company behind it – Defense Distributed – released the blueprints for anyone to download, something the Department of Defense has already stymied.
The Liberator was created by 25-year-old law student Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed. The gun was designed in such a way that it can be easily recreated by others who have access to a 3D printer, making the firearm a weapon that can be theoretically mass produced on a very accessible consumer level. The gun, which resembles a toy with its square plastic body, is made from easily obtainable ABS plastic and has a total of 16 parts. Although it is hailed as the first fully-printed firearm, it does have a metal firing pin due to the inability of plastic to withstand the force. The weapon was designed to fire ordinary handgun rounds, of which various calibers can be used thanks to an interchangeable barrel.
The Liberator was test fired on Monday, May 6. Unfortunately, the testing phase didn’t fare as well as Wilson had hoped, with the first attempt resulting in a misfire and the second – which involved a 5.7 x 28 rifle cartridge – ending with the handgun being blow into shrapnel, perhaps making the Liberator the first 3D-printed explosive device, as well. Such a result didn’t slow them down too much, however.
As we noted earlier this month, Wilson planned to release his blueprints on the database website Defcad.org, where other CAD files for printable guns are available. He ultimately followed through with this plan, making the blueprints available for others to download today. In a short span of time, the file was saved over 100,000 times, a reality that has quickly been halted by the government.
As of now, the DefCad website displays a banner reading: “DEFCAD files are being removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information.” This followed a letter sent by the State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Compliance demanding the blueprints be removed while a review was performed to see whether they count as class one munitions. It is possible Defense Distributed violated the Arms Export Control Act as a result of releasing information without authorization that is under control of the International Traffic in Arms Regulation.
On one side of the fence, many have expressed concerns about the ability for anyone to download blueprints for printing their own firearms, something that could result in obtaining weapons without a background check and facilitate access for felons and the mentally ill. In addition, 3D printed guns wouldn’t have serial numbers, an issue posing its own problems. On the other hand, however, are those who say access to such information is the right of a free people, and that blocking access to it is a restriction of one’s rights.
Wilson is in the latter camp, quoted as saying: “I immediately complied and I’ve taken down the files. But this is a much bigger deal than guns. It has implications for the freedom of the web.”