A month ago when Motherboard released Click, Print, Gun, a documentary about Cody Wilson and his quest to build a 3D-printed gun, plenty of people doubted this 25-year-old law student's ambition. Aside from those who picked apart Wilson's ego, these skeptics looked at the early creations of Wilson's new organization, Defense Distributed, and doubted the technology. Even the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF), the experts of the gun experts, brushed off the notion that a gun with 3D-printed parts could perform as well as one with steel parts. The last time I talked the bureau's spokesman, he practically laughed at the idea that a gun could be assembled solely out of 3D-printed parts.
Look who's laughing now. On Friday morning, Forbes's Andy Greenberg published photos of the world's first* completely 3D-printed gun. It has a 3D-printed handle, a 3D-printed trigger, a 3D-printed body and a 3D-printed barrel, all made of polymer. It's not completely plastic, though. So as not to violate the Undetectable Firearms Act and guarantee it would get spotted by a metal detector, Wilson and friends embedded a six-ounce hunk of steel inside the gun. They're calling it "The Liberator."
Before getting into the details, I ought to remind you that Cody Wilson does love attention and has been known to, well, embellish some facts. The Liberator looks like the real thing, though, and Forbes has the pictures to prove it. It's unclear what happens when you shoot the gun — the trigger looks broken in the photo above — but it certainly looks like a gun.
The Liberator, it must be said, is not an AR-15. It cannot accommodate a high-capacity magazine, and it isn't necessarily the most intimidating little firearm. With the bulky body and snubby nose, it kind of looks like an alien ray gun, except that alien ray guns do not exist and do not kill people (yet). The Liberator does, and that's the point. "You can print a lethal device," Wilson told Greenberg when he was just getting Defense Distributed off the ground last summer. "It’s kind of scary, but that’s what we’re aiming to show."
Meanwhile, lawmakers are watching. Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat, introduced an amendment to the Undetectable Firearms Act last year to ban "homemade, 3D printed, plastic high-capacity magazines." He's since broadened his scope a bit.
"Security checkpoints, background checks, and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print plastic firearms at home and bring those firearms through metal detectors with no one the wiser," said the congressman in a press release issued after the Forbes story broke the news. "When I started talking about the issue of plastic firearms months ago, I was told the idea of a plastic gun is science-fiction. Now that this technology is proven, we need to act now to extend the ban [on] plastic firearms."
Oh, did I forget to tell you? The Liberator is completely legal. As long as it has that metal shank inside and as long as Wilson doesn't sell it, there's nothing the ATF can do to stop him from making or using it. Not yet, anyway.
*Note: About that "world's first" it's certainly possible some hobbyist somewhere has made one of these, and I just haven't seen it. Having written about 3D-printed guns for a year now, this is the first one I've ever seen.