After firing several rounds of a homemade plastic gun, the federal government officially determined that 3D-printed firearms are dangerous, deadly, and a threat to the nation's safety. Now the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is working with lawmakers to implement some regulatory control on the nascent technology.
The agency announced its findings at a press conference yesterday, and also shared a video of their weapons test. Officials downloaded the files for the Liberator—Cody Wilson's now-famous 3D-printed gun—printed a few models, and fired 'em. One of guns blew up. (The video catches this in action and is worth a watch.) The others worked successfully enough for the agency to conclude the weapons were lethal.
"The .380 bullets fired from the Liberator penetrate sufficiently to reach vital organs and perforate the skull," ATF chief Earl Griffith told reporters.
The government is looking into the futuristic weapons now because the law banning undetected firearms is set to expire this December 9. That law requires guns to have enough metal in them to set off a metal detector. Without it, gun control advocates fear, anyone with enough cash and a little time could print a weapon in their living room and sneak it past security checkpoints or onto an airplane.
The government's also worried that if the Undetectable Firearms Act isn't extended, they'll lose one of the last legal checks on a technology that could theoretically skirt around many of today's firearm regulations. "In 1988, the notion of a 3-D plastic gun was science fiction," Rep. Steve Israel, one of the congressmen pushing to ban 3D-printed guns, told press. "Now, a month away, it is reality."
Like with all things gun-related, it's a controversial issue. At this point there have been no known cases of violence or crimes committed using plastic guns, which cost thousands of dollars and take hours to print, and still have a tendency to explode when you fire them.
Even more to the point, some legislators are pushing for amended versions of the Undetectable Firearms Act that would set an all-out ban on 3D-printed guns—making, selling, or owning them. It's all reigniting the hot-button gun debate in Washington—but with an added "arm the people" twist.
For his part, Wilson believes that the right to DIY your weapon is what freedom's all about—hence the name of his gun. That said, the Liberator .380 is completely legal—it's made with a metal firing pin and a steel block in the receiver to abide by the undetectable firearms law. The blueprint for the gun was downloaded more than 100,000 times before federal officials blocked the site where it was available.