Alarm at the gun you can print in 3D

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A 3D printer operates by spraying layer upon layer of plastic, ceramics and even metals to form complex objects. Picture: YouTube.com

Los Angeles - Gun control activists have expressed alarm after the world's first firearm made entirely with 3D printer technology was successfully fired, and the blueprint used to make it was made available online to download for free.

A group described as the “Pirate Bay of 3D Printing” successfully fired the firearm in Texas on Saturday. Defense Distributed, which spent a year designing the handgun, dubbed “Liberator”, built it from plastic on a 3D printer bought on eBay for $8 000 (about R72 000).

The computer-aided design file, or CAD, containing Liberator's blueprint has been made available by Defense Distributed to download for free - it will allow anyone with a 3D printer to create their own “Wiki weapon”.

A 3D printer operates by spraying layer upon layer of plastic, ceramics and even metals to form complex objects. For several years, manufacturing firms have used the technology to create prototypes and components, but it is now increasingly available to the public - in some cases the price of a 3D printer has dropped to $500. Physical copies of the Liberator, created using the blueprint, would be untraceable: no serial number, no sales receipt.

Defense Distributed was founded last year by Cody Wilson, 25, a law student at the University of Texas, who calls himself a crypto-anarchist. Wilson told the BBC: “There are states all over the world that say you can't own firearms… [but] technology says you can pretty much be able to have whatever you want. It's not up to the political players any more.”

Gun control activists fear they could all too easily fall into the wrong hands. Victoria Baines, from Europol's cybercrime centre, said: “As time goes on, and as this technology becomes more user friendly and more cost effective, it is possible some risks will emerge.”

Defense Distributed recently received a license from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which allows Wilson and his colleagues to manufacture and sell guns. However, the organisation has faced setbacks. In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook, its gun blueprints were removed from the CAD-file search engine Thingiverse. Its account on crowd-funding website Indiegogo was frozen, and 3D printed manufacturer Stratasys refused the group permission to use its machines.

Yet the group has already created a high-capacity ammunition magazine for the AR-15 assault rifle, which it called “Cuomo”, after New York state Governor Mario Cuomo, a leading proponent of gun control. Its 3D printed magazine for the AK-47 was named “Feinstein”, after gun control advocate, California Senator Diane Feinstein.

US congressman Steve Israel wants a ban on 3D printed gun components included in the Undetectable Firearms Act, which bans the possession of any weapon that cannot be detected by a metal detector or X-ray machine. The New York Democrat told Forbes: “All the acts of Congress will not be effective if someone can go to a Staples, buy a 3D printer and manufacture plastic weapons components in their basement.” - The Independent

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