You Can Now 3-D Print Your Own Working Gun, But You Probably Shouldn't

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 6 2013 4:48 PM

You Can Now 3-D Print Your Own Working Gun, But You Probably Shouldn't

Cody Wilson fires his 3-D printed gun, dubbed "Liberator."
Cody Wilson fires his 3-D printed gun, dubbed "Liberator."

Screenshot / YouTube

On Saturday, University of Texas law student Cody Wilson successfully fired what has been billed as the world’s first fully 3-D printed gun. Forbes’ Andy Greenberg, who was there, has the definitive story on the feat.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

The weapon, which Wilson calls the “Liberator,” is being both hailed and denounced as a major blow to gun control. Wilson’s nonprofit, Defense Distributed, has already put the design plans for the gun online for anyone to download. That means people could start printing out working firearms in their living rooms today. Of even greater concern to lawmakers, criminals could theoretically thwart security measures by carrying the all-plastic guns into secure buildings without setting off metal detectors.

In reality, though, we aren’t quite there yet. For one thing, this fully 3-D printed gun isn’t fully fully 3-D printed, Wilson explained to me in a phone interview. Because federal law bans firearms that aren’t detectable by metal detectors, Wilson added a six-ounce, non-functional metal component to his version. Of course, anyone 3-D printing the gun at home could skip that step. But again, that would be against the law. And there’s one other part that actually can’t yet be 3-D printed: the firing pin. “We tried a lot of plastic pins,” Wilson said. “They were a little too soft,” so they deformed when they hit the primer.


To Wilson, that’s no problem. He told me his goal was never to build a weapon undetectable by security devices. “That it’s made out of plastic is just an accident to me,” Wilson said. “If there was a way to extrude metal (with a home 3-D printer), that would be just as exciting to me.” Besides, he noted, modern airport-security checkpoints don’t rely on metal detectors but on x-ray scanners that would reveal the shape of a plastic gun just as easily as a traditional pistol.

One other factor working against any criminal who would use a “Liberator” as a weapon: It doesn’t work very well. As TechCrunch’s John Biggs writes in a useful explainer, “This is more of a zip gun than a pistol,” in that it is a crude and wildly unreliable single-shot firearm as opposed to something that can fire with accuracy again and again without exploding in your face.

Oh, and the type of printer that Wilson used can run you upwards of $10,000 on eBay. You could try it on a much cheaper Makerbot, but at your own (significant) risk.

In short, we are now one step closer to a world in which people can choose between buying a gun at the store and printing one in their living room. And Wilson and others are working hard to bring that about, including through Defense Distributed's new search engine, But several more steps remain before it’s a viable option. Until then, there’s a decent chance that the first person who tries to kill someone with a 3-D printed gun will end up as an unintended casualty himself.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.