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Millions of people had no idea what 3D printing was until international news headlines read “3D printed guns”. People and governments continue to debate the issue with opposing viewpoints years after the first 3D printed gun was made. But how did the tale of 3D-printed guns start? Which 3D printing technologies are employed? Some people think 3D printed weapons are more harmful than “traditional” firearms, while others disagree. To answer these concerns, we wrote a study of 3D printed weapons.
Cody Wilson is the inventor
It all started in 2012 when Cody Wilson revealed his plan to design firearms open-source so that everyone could print a weapon at home. A self-proclaimed crypto-anarchist was neither a criminal nor a deranged geek but a Law student at the University of Texas at the time. However, he left the university the next year – to commit, apparently, full-time to the development and distribution of 3D printed guns. For this purpose, he founded an organization, Defense Distributed, with its online platform called Defcad. Wilson identifies it not as a tech business but rather as a “nonprofit defense organization” whose purpose is to fight against government censorship.
3D printed guns in the US
Cody Wilson and the US Government then engaged in a legal dispute involving back-and-forth litigation. It lasted five years before the Trump administration approved 3D printed weapons in 2018. Wilson was charged with sexual harassment of an underage girl the same year and was forced to resign from Defense Distributed. Despite this, the company did not cease to exist in the absence of Cody. Nowadays,
Surprisingly, the Trump administration’s legalization in 2018 was not the tale’s end. In 2019, a federal judge in Seattle ruled the legalization unconstitutional, briefly halting Defcad. The Deterrence Dispensed community was created in response to that blockage (2019). Although they share the same philosophy, this network of gun advocates is not the same as Defense Dist.
Both gun advocates, including Defense Distributed and Deterrence Dispensed, cite the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, which states that “a well-regulated Militia, being essential to the protection of a free State, the right of the citizens to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” As a result, the legal fight between gun activists and the US government continues today. A group of 20 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the federal government in early 2020 in response to the Trump Administration’s decision to authorize sharing 3D printed gun files on the internet.
Different kinds of 3D printed weapons
Since it lacks a commercial serial number or other markings that might help identify the user, the 3D printed weapon is also known as a “ghost gun.” Cody Wilson’s Liberator.380, developed and released in 2013, was the first 3D printed plastic gun. A single-shot pistol was produced on a Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer using Fused Deposition Modeling. The Liberator is the closest thing to a wholly plastic gun available today. However, it still needs a steel nail to act as the firing pin. A vital feature of a plastic gun is that it does not set off metal detectors. But more on that later.
Although the Liberator is the most well-known 3D printed gun made of plastic, metal 3D printing will produce more powerful and accurate weapons. The first 3D printed metal pistol, for example, was the Solid Concepts replica of a Browning 1911 handgun. Solid Concepts was a California-based additive manufacturing firm that Stratasys purchased in 2014. Their 3D printed metal handgun, made with Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DLMS) technology, could fire more than 600 bullets without causing any damage to the gun. It is thought to be the most dependable metal 3D printed gun ever made.
Although metal weapons are far more reliable than plastic ones, they are also far from the average citizen. When the gun was made (November 2013), the metal printer used to produce the Solid Concepts 1911 weapon cost $500,000 and $1 million. And the gun itself was selling for $11,900 apiece.
The science behind 3D printed weapons
When considering the actual method of 3D printing a weapon, it is essential to remember. A 3D printer cannot produce a complex mechanism such as a functioning gun in one piece. As a result, the individual elements are printed separately and then manually assembled. It is a time-consuming and challenging operation.
In terms of materials, one can choose from various thermoplastics when using an FDM 3D printer to make a gun. However, PLA or ABS is most commonly used for this purpose. However, even these thermoplastics are not ideal for developing a functional gun. Since PLA is weaker, its component can generally deform relatively easily. ABS is more rigid but can crack and break rather than deform. As a result of the explosive force of firing a bullet being too high. The user can typically only fire one shot until a thermoplastic component breaks. For example, in 2013, an Australian police department tested a 3D printed gun. They could shoot a 17-centimeter bullet, but the plastic instantly exploded after the bullet was fired.
Controversy and debate
Naturally, there is a divergence between gun activists and those who vehemently oppose gun violence. In the United States, the controversy about 3D printed weapons is part of a more significant debate over guns and gun abuse.
However, some people are concerned about 3D printed weapons in particular, even more than they are about “conventional” ones, and they have their own reasons for doing so. For starters, they are concerned about the weapon’s untraceability, which makes identifying the gunman challenging. Second, and maybe more importantly, since 3D printed weapons are not subject to background checks, a person can 3D print a gun even if they are mentally ill, a criminal, or underage.
Furthermore, plastic weapons do not set off metal detectors, a compelling argument to prohibit this sort of weapon. Even if a thermoplastic gun is prone to breaking after a single shot, it can still kill or injure one person. For example, in 2013, three Mail on Sunday reporters 3D printed a Liberator pistol on a less-than-$2,000 3D printer and boarded a Eurostar train with it. Since the gun was made of plastic, did not trigger metal detectors were not triggered, and the men smuggled the disassembled gun by placing pieces in each of their pockets. The Liberator was then disassembled and reassembled in the train toilet cabin. This experiment demonstrates how simple it is to smuggle lethal weapons into places with high security, such as airports and train stations.
On the other hand, many people agree that it is unreasonable to fear 3D printed guns more than conventional ones. According to them, 3D printed weapons cannot even work well enough to be commonly used. The weapon usually explodes in the user’s hands, breaks, or deforms.
Some of the most well-known 3D-printed weapons
Cody Wilson shot the first 3D-printed gun in May of 2013. Under the moniker’ Liberator,’ this plastic pistol was created by internet activists Defense Distributed.
The Liberator .038 is made entirely of 3D printed ABS, except the single nail’s firing pin.
Cody Wilson is the creator of “the Liberator,” a 3D printed rifle.
A Canadian named “Mathew” 3D printed a genuine weapon, a Grizzly .22 Caliber Rifle replica, in August 2013.
The Reprringer Pepperbox.22 Revolver was released in September 2013 by the Hexen group. The weapon’s 3D-printed barrel can hold up to 5 bullets at once.
Solid Concepts, currently a Stratasys brand, 3D printed an operable metal pistol in November 2013.
The Browning 1911 Metal Replica fired over 600 bullets without sustaining any damage.
Yoshitomo Imura 3D printed and fired a Zig Zag.38 Revolver in May 2014. He was eventually apprehended and found guilty of having four 3D-printed plastic pistols in his home.
After Yoshitomo Imura’s arrest in 2014, seized 3D printed plastic handguns were displayed at Kanagawa police station in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.
A US individual known as “Buck O’Fama” 3D printed a receiver for a semi-automatic rifle in July 2014. Ruger Charger pistol, caliber 22.
The Ruger Charger takes high-capacity magazines with a capacity of 30 rounds or more. It can shoot a whole magazine without any problems.
A man named Derwood 3D printed the Shuty, a 9-mm semi-auto based on a combination of parts from an AR-15 and a P.A. Luty, in May 2015.
Shuty’s design blends a metal bolt, an AR fire-control group, and a Glock barrel. The upper and lower receivers, as well as the magazine, are entirely 3D printed.
In September 2015, a college student named Chris 3D printed the ‘Yoshee Six Shooter,’ a semi-automatic revolver. The Yoshee Six Shooter is a revolver-style weapon with numerous barrels that allows you to fire multiple shots without reloading. A 3D printed grip, hammer, spring, barrel, and barrel holder are included. A metal screw is utilized as a firing pin To strike the rim of the rounds.
James Patrick, an engineering student, created a 3D printable revolver that fires with a rubber band and a nail .22 bullets in November 2015.
The PM522 Washbear revolver can carry six or eight bullets and shoot them in a row. Patrick has produced a previous model (single shot) called the Songbird, his first 3D printed pistol.
The now-famous Derwood 3D printed a new gun of its design, the Shuty MP-1, in January 2016. This is a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol composed almost entirely of 3D printed parts.
The 3D printed gun’s remaining components and most sophisticated pieces are constructed of metal, including the store-bought Glock barrel, hammer, firing pin, bolts, and springs. With his Shuty MP-1, Derwood has fired almost 600 hundred cartridges.
According to him, after around 18 shots, the plastic holding the barrel starts to melt, so it’s best to let the gun cool down regularly.
How Effective Is a 3D-Printed Gun?
After establishing that 3D printed firearms exist and have been around for some time, many people are curious about their effectiveness compared to a real gun.
This is a little video demonstrating the firing of a Mac 11 3D printed gun.
Certain 3D printed firearms will perform better than others. The Liberator performed admirably for its period but lacked durability and dependability.
While these will never compare to a real pistol in terms of force, they are undoubtedly improving in their own league.
You want to avoid utilizing brittle plastics with low tensile strength, such as ordinary PLA.
For instance, a pistol constructed of ABS-M30, a reinforced ABS variant with increased tensile, impact, and flexural strength, could fire eight.380 caliber rounds in a row without failing.
On the other hand, some guns have been known to burst and shatter into many pieces after firing just one bullet, indicating that the success of a 3D printed gun is highly dependent on various conditions.
Certain individuals have 3D printed their guns with the incorrect amount of infill, and these are the ones you’re likely to witness explode. When suitable infill percentages are used, firearms are more likely to be reliable and bend/melt rather than explode.
The advantage of 3D printing is its ability to adapt, overcome, and improve efficiency, which means that improvements will be made compared to the initial models of these guns.
There have been numerous advancements in 3D printed firearms, and they are becoming significantly more durable than before. Check out the video below by The 3D Printer General, who demonstrates how to shoot various 3D printed guns at a Texas event.
Is 3D Printing a Gun Legal?
This subject can become somewhat confusing because laws vary by country and, even by state if you live in the United States. There has been considerable debate between lawmakers and citizens on whether their freedoms should be expanded to include the ability to 3D print a gun lawfully.
As reported in this E&T piece, there appears to be a legal struggle raging over the release of designs for 3D printing pistols.
It was outlawed by the Obama administration, then reinstated by the Trump administration, and now a federal judge has reinstated the restriction.
It has been a protracted legal battle to establish design files’ legitimacy, enabling anyone to print lethal weapons without government oversight. The same Defense Distributed company that developed The Liberator lifted the first ban.
This legal dispute began in 2013 when 100,000 3D printed gun CAD files were downloaded and subsequently withdrawn due to potential violations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
According to CriminalDefenseLawyer.com, no federal or state laws currently prohibit the possession or manufacture of 3D printed firearms. Still, steps have been taken to prevent downloading the CAD files.
The Undetectable Firearms Act also applies here. Defense Distributed ensured that the Liberator, as the company’s first 3D printed gun, included a bit of metal to ensure compliance with the law.
When addressing 3D printed firearms, public safety is at stake, but a legal war will go on for years. You must strike a balance between rights and liberties and restrictions and the possibility of weapon abuse by criminals.
In the United Kingdom, this is covered by Section 5 2A(a) of the 1968 Firearms Act, which states, ‘A person commits an offense if he manufactures any weapon or ammunition specified in subsection (1) of this section (which is a lengthy list of prohibited firearms); 3D printed weapons are included in this list.
According to The Telegraph, a university student became the first individual in the United Kingdom to be sentenced for possessing 3D printed gun components following a tip-off. He faces a five-year mandatory minimum term for handgun possession.
Overall, it is true that the current state of desktop 3D printing does not allow for the production of high-quality weapons at home. And it is a slow and complicated process. However, as technology progresses, this is very likely to change. Since AM technologies are rapidly emerging, with a wide range of new materials being invented and published regularly, the future may be frightening. Metal 3D printing, for example, is 10-100 times quicker – and relatively cheaper – than when 3D printed weapons first appeared. As a result, some assume that 3D printed weapons will pose a future threat. The question is, how far into the future is that future?
What are your thoughts on the 3D-printed weapons controversy?
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