Could 3-D Printing Unleash a Gun-Printing Craze?

Source: Michael Thad Carter for Forbes 

Just this month, a 25-year-old Texas law student named Cody Wilson made history. Using a Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS  ) SST 3-D printer, Wilson created a fully functional firearm with 15 different plastic parts that were hand assembled. The only non-plastic part was the metal firing pin.

Wilson, who founded a non-profit group named Defense Distributed, invited Forbes magazine reporter Andy Greenberg to a shooting range outside of Austin to see the first demonstration of the gun's capacity. Nicknamed the "Liberator", the gun was able to fire a .380 handgun round without damaging the gun itself.

Wilson later put the CAD file for the Liberator up online, and in two days, over 100,000 copies of the file were downloaded for free.

Garnering the interest of lawmakers
No sooner, however, had the CAD files been made available than the U.S. government stepped in to eliminate them from the Internet.

New York Rep. Steve Isreal was the first lawmaker to come out publicly against Defense Distributed. Just yesterday, New York Sen. Charles Shumer joined Isreal in asking for legislation to outlaw 3-D printable guns. 

Stratasys also says that when it learned of Wilson's intent, the company seized a printer that was leased to the group.  

It's too early to tell what the ramifications will be -- both in terms of gun-control laws, and for the major players in the 3-D printing industry, like Stratasys.  

One thing that seems likely, however, is that we'll be able to look back at this experiment in Texas as a touchstone moment in 3-D printing evolution.

You can read all about the biggest industry disrupters since the personal computer in our special free report on the 3-D printing industry. Just click here to learn more.


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  • Report this Comment On May 13, 2013, at 4:42 PM, colleran wrote:

    Like any new technology, 3D printing can be used for good or bad purposes. I suspect that it will be much easier for criminals to buy a gun than make one. I have heard differing views on what it takes to screen for a plastic gun. Obviously a metal detector alone will not.

    By the way, the printer used costs about $8000. I doubt, although I don't know, that a consumer 3D printer would be able to print a workable gun. Still, it is a concern for public places in the future.

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