3-D Printed Guns Are Officially Affordable

If you thought it was impressive and unsettling when Defense Distributed manufactured the "Liberator," a functional 3-D printed plastic gun, earlier this month with the help of an $8,000 Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS  ) industrial 3-D printer, wait until you see what a hobbyist created with an off-the-shelf, $1,725 consumer 3-D printer and $25 of materials.

Dubbed the "Lulz Liberator", the gun's parts were printed on a $1,725 Lulzbot AO-101 3-D printer and the plastic barrel lasted eight rounds before needing to be replaced for the ninth fire. Surprisingly, the at-home version of this gun preformed better than the original Liberator, which needed a replacement barrel after each fire. The anonymous creator of the Lulz Liberator believes that the ABS plastic he used was stronger than the plastic used in making the Stratasys Liberator. Even with this advantage, the Lulz Liberator still managed to misfire on several occasions and the spent round had to be removed with a hammer.

Printing Pandora's box
Before the Lulz Liberator was born, some critics dismissed the threat of 3-D printed firearms, citing a lack of practicality and a high barrier of entry associated with purchasing an $8,000 industrial-grade 3-D printer. Naturally, this argument isn't holding as much water now, given the fact that anyone with the right grade of ABS plastic filament and access to a consumer 3-D printer under $2,000 can in theory start making firearms.

Here's looking at you, 3D Systems
Of the publicly traded 3-D printing companies, 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD  ) has the biggest interest in the consumer-oriented 3-D printing segment with its Cube line of 3-D printers. Starting at a palatable price of $1,299, it's conceivable that these printers could also be capable printing functioning firearms.

However, it's currently unclear what thickness the Lulz Liberator was printed with and if the Cube would suffice. The printer used to create the Lulz Liberator has a minimum print thickness of 75-microns, where the entry-level Cube has a 200-micron print thickness. The Cube X, 3D Systems' higher-end consumer-oriented 3-D printer aimed at serious enthusiasts, has a minimum layer thickness of 100 microns, which also may not be a fine enough resolution for this application. Additionally, the Cube printers use a proprietary blend of ABS plastic, which may not be as strong as the ABS used in the demonstration.

The bigger picture
As 3-D printing continues to proliferate throughout the world, it's going to prove more difficult to stop the underground movement to create homemade firearms, despite its potentially dark implications. Perhaps if government regulation is really in the cards, maybe the angle is to control ammunition more? Actually, it's a little late for that.

In the end, the Internet and at-home 3-D printing is proving to be an extremely powerful, disruptive, and potentially unsettling idea.

3D Systems is at the leading edge of a disruptive technological revolution, with the broadest portfolio of 3-D printers in the industry. However, despite years of earnings growth, 3D Systems' share price has risen even faster, and today the company sports a dizzying valuation. To help investors decide whether the future of additive manufacturing is bright enough to justify the lofty price tag on the company's shares, The Motley Fool has compiled a premium research report on whether 3D Systems is a buy right now. In our report, we take a close look at 3D Systems' opportunities, risks, and critical factors for growth. You'll also find reasons to buy or sell the stock today. To start reading, simply click here now for instant access.

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  • Report this Comment On May 22, 2013, at 5:29 PM, jimbinnh wrote:

    It's not that hard to make a gun from metal with a few simple tools, either. But it is illegal, unless you are licensed. Manufacturing firearms requires an FFL license.

  • Report this Comment On May 24, 2013, at 2:07 AM, Western13 wrote:

    You're incorrect Jimbinnh, the "manufacture" of firearms is completely legal without a license. It's the transfer and distribution of them that requires a FFL.

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