The hypothetical idea of a fully 3D-printed gun became a reality last week, when Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson unveiled "The Liberator." It's a boxy ugly thing, only vaguely the shape of a conventional handgun. It sort of looks like a toy with its bright blue handle and silly plastic trigger. Folks probably thought when they saw the pictures of the thing, "Surely that thing can't fire bullets." But oh yes it can.
Over the weekend, Forbes's Andy Greenberg traveled down to central Texas to watch Wilson test-fire his unsettling new creation. It went as well as it could've. Wilson and friends first fired the gun from a distance, using a length of yellow string to pull the trigger. It worked. Not only did the 3D-printed gun fire a .380 caliber bullet just like a real gun, it didn't fall apart like everyone expected it would.
The Liberator is not perfect. Subsequent tests led to a misfire, and when the Texans tried to fire a rifle bullet, the whole thing exploded. However, Wilson later returned to the firing range with an improved model, one that he felt comfortable enough holding in his hand and firing. And that's exactly what he did. Behold:
The most alarming thing about this mostly functional little plastic firearm is the fact that Wilson has now uploaded the CAD files for the gun parts so that everyone can 3D-print his own weapon. And yes, there is definitely an arm-the-people element to the project. There always has been, but Wilson seems to have taken an even more radical point of view as his 3D-printed project becomes more successful.
"This is about enabling individuals to create their own sovereign space… The government will increasingly be on the sidelines, saying ‘Hey, wait,' " says Wilson. "It’s about creating the new order in the crumbling shell of the old order."
Wait, did Wilson just make a New World Order reference, one that sort of contradicts the well known conspiracy theory? Yes he did. Does Wilson also compare the United States government (and others) to the Nazi regime during World War II? Yup. Greenberg reports:
[Wilson] prefers to think of his Liberator in the same terms as its namesake, the one built for distribution to resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied countries in the 1940s. That plan was conceived in part as a psychological operation aimed at lowering the occupying forces’ morale, Wilson says, and he believes his project will strike a similar symbolic blow against governments around the world. “The enemy took notice that weapons were being dropped from the sky,” he says. “Our execution will be better. We have the Internet.”
But what happens after the execution? In a way, Wilson's already won his mission of government intimidation, since Rep. Steve Israel is actively pursuing a ban on 3D-printed weapons in the form of an amendment to the Undetectable Firearms Act. The Liberator contains a non-functional shank of steel that enables it to show up in a metal detector and not violate the law. However, it's possible to build the gun without the shank, take it through a metal detector and onto a plane.
Wilson's end game was always to build a completely 3D-printed gun. Now that he's done it and posted the plans online, it seems like he's ready to sit back and see what people do with it. Violence is a strong possibility, as is the likelihood of a faulty gun blowing up in someone's hands. But Wilson doesn't care. This is about freedom, and sometimes freedom comes at a cost.
"I recognize that this tool might be used to harm people. That’s what it is: It’s a gun," Wilson told Forbes. "But I don’t think that’s a reason to not put it out there. I think that liberty in the end is a better interest."