In the world of printing stuff off your computer, the future has already been here for quite some time. It’s now possible to feed a 3-D printer with a CAD-file (Computer-Aided Design) and it will create virtually any inanimate object for you, including gun parts.
Defense Distributed’s Cody Wilson has proven that it’s possible to assemble functioning weapons made up of parts from 3-D printed files. His endeavor and success is well documented on the company’s website.
His success, however, has sparked debate on second amendment rights as well as copyright infringements. While it’s still legal in the US to make guns and have gun parts, sharing the files to create them can get you in trouble.
The website Thingiverse removed all their gun files in December 2012, so Wilson started his own site, DefCad, to host them. DefCad has come under pressure from the US government to remove files featuring weapon parts, but the site is still up and running.
Its most popular file is called FOSSCAD Atlas SSR and DMR Shanrilivan. The parts can easily be fitted together to create a precision rifle. This file has been downloaded more than 11,000 times.
3-D printing is far from its infancy but there are still limitations to this technology. There’s currently no printer that can create objects with moving parts, but carving out pieces from stainless steel is not a problem. The maximum object size can be created from a block measuring 100 cm by 45 cm by 25 cm, more than enough to create a durable weapon.
Still, material costs and the cost of the printer itself, combined, are staggering. It will cost quite a pretty penny so mass production is out of the question for most. But there are cheaper plastic compounds that are strong enough to use for weapons.
It’s only a matter of time until the most advanced 3-D printing technology of today will become a household reality. Stainless steel comes with a price tag of less than US$10 per cubic centimeter. Buying enough of it to print your own weapon will be extremely expensive compared to buying the arm.
The advantages of printing your own weapon are vast, though. You’re in charge of the entire design and it won’t come with a serial number that could be used to track it. There are already online forums dedicated solely to discussing materials, costs, and designs.
Publishing blueprints online for gun components blurs the line between the regulation of firearms and information censorship. Politicians are fervently trying to legislate restrictions on this technology before it becomes cheap enough for any disgruntled student to repeat the Columbine massacre with weapons that can easily bypass any metal detector.