There's even more exciting gun news today, coming from a small nonprofit organization called Defense Distributed. They announced that they have successfully test-fired a gun made almost entirely in a 3-D printer. The only part that wasn't 3-D printed was the firing pin. And the bullet, of course. Now previously, people had made gun components in 3-D printers, but prior tests of entire weapons had been unsuccessful. This raises some rather troubling questions, which we'll get to in a moment. But first, here's their short video, which shows the firing and construction of the gun, inexplicably interspersed with shots of World War II-era bombers:
They may call this thing "The Liberator," but it's a little too impractical to be able to liberate anyone at the moment. It's probably highly inaccurate, and it holds only one bullet. But this is more a proof-of-concept than anything else, and if you want to, you can go to their website and download the plans, then print one out on your own 3-D printer.
Defense Distributed is run by Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student, gun enthusiast, and libertarian. There's a Q&A with him from a few months ago here, and if you read it you'll see he sounds pretty much like any Ron Paul acolyte. His motivations aren't all that important, because if he didn't do it, it was only a matter of time before someone else did. You may be asking, is this legal? And the answer appears to be yes. There is a law called the Undetectable Firearms Act which prohibits the manufacture, sale, or possession of any gun that won't show up on a metal detector, but Defense Distributed handles that by including in the design a piece of metal in the gun's body. You can figure out how tough that would be to get around.
As it happens, the Undetectable Firearms Act is expiring at the end of this year. There will be an effort to renew it, particularly in light of this development, and it would certainly be interesting to see the NRA try to argue that being able to print out a plastic gun in your basement is the very essence of the liberty for which the Founders fought so bravely. But you know what? I'm guessing the NRA won't oppose a renewal of the UFA at all. They'll be happy to support it.
And why would that be? Well, who's the most threatened by the idea of people making their own guns in large quantities? The gun manufacturers, that's who. And in recent years, the relationship between the NRA and the manufacturers has grown so intertwined that there's virtually no distinction between them. So don't be surprised if we see the NRA come out in full-throated support of new restrictions on 3-D printed guns.
Now, let's address the technological question. Even if there isn't much point in 3-D printing your own gun right now, the technology is in its very early stages. If you want to get a 3-D printer today, you can pay $2,000 for one from MakerBot, the most popular brand, or you can get one for as little as $400 from some other companies (the one Defense Distributed used was a used industrial model, somewhat more expensive). 3-D printing boosters predict that as the technology improves and prices come down, before long—maybe 10 years, maybe 15—3-D printers will be as common a household appliance as microwave ovens. And let's say the technology does improve, to the point where you could print out a full, working version of a Glock or, if you had a huge printer, an AR-15. And instead of paying $500 for the former or $1,000 for the latter, it'd cost you maybe five or ten bucks for the material and that's it. Why not make a hundred of them? Or a thousand?
MakerBot doesn't allow plans for guns on its Thingverse, the biggest forum for trading 3-D printing plans. But that doesn't matter; if it's on the Internet somewhere, people will find it if they want to. And even if we made them illegal, you could break that law without involving any accomplices. If you had a gang, you could outfit them with more guns than they could possibly want. The technology may be just developing, but the possibilities are pretty frightening.