A month ago, I commented on the sensationalist reporting surrounding Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, and 3D printed firearms. In a nutshell, Defense Distributed could claim to have 3D printed a “gun” because of a technicality in the legal definition of a gun – only one part of an AR15 rifle requires federal paperwork, so if you can print that one part, you’ve printed a “gun.”
Last week, however, Cody Wilson revealed the files for The Liberator, a .38 caliber pistol that can be entirely 3D printed (well, almost – you need to add a small metal pin). Cue dramatic reporters.
In no time, junior reporters everywhere were suddenly experts on 3D printing on firearms, and couldn’t wait to chime into the discussion. In fact, the British tabloid The Daily Mail decided to pull what they proclaimed to be a “security scandal” in what has to be one of the laziest pieces of investigative reporting around 3D printed firearms yet (granted, they are a tabloid, so they get a handicap).
In the article, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Meyers got their hands on a £1, 700 (~$2,600) 3D printer and made a plastic pistol – and then proceeded to board the EuroStar train with it. After taking a few self-aggrandizing photos of them posing on the train with their Liberator, they cried security scandal.
It’s clear that not once during their reporting did the reporters talk to anyone with any knowledge of 3D printing, firearms, or security. Here’s why:
- The Defense Distributed Liberator was printed on a $30K Dimension 1200es printer at 0.25mm precision. Look at the difference in precision between what Defense Distributed produces and what The Daily Mail produced. You can SEE how poorly made and asymmetrical the pins of The Daily Mail’s Liberator are:
Mr. Murphy admits to not having test fired his Liberator, and for good reason. A pistol is not something you can use just because it looks “about right” – Mr. Murphy’s Liberator is more likely to blow his own hand off than to be a dangerous weapon, making him less the techno-anarchist gunman he claims to be and more like the world’s best-dressed and least effective suicide bomber.
- The Liberator is good for one .38 caliber shot from an unrifled, plastic barrel before you have to change the barrel and reload. Now, I’m not trying to undermine the danger of a .38 pistol – but a $2,600 printer to get off one inaccurate .38 shot is not a security scandal. It’s over-engineering what rednecks and reckless kids in growing up in backwater towns (cough) have known about for years: zipguns. It’s not hard to get one bullet to fire, it’s a lot harder to get a second bullet to fire; assuming you can even get a bullet through security (Mr. Murphy got a plastic gun through security, but no bullets, which are easy to find at security checkpoints), you’re good for one wildly inaccurate shot.
You’ve over-engineered a knife or a baseball bat, and one that might blow off your hand at that.
In the above video, our friendly PrepperKip has made a 12 ga. shotgun with a pipe, some duct tape, and utter disregard for personal safety. It cost 1/100th of the price of the Liberator to make, and it’s a lot more powerful.
Yes, 3D printing will get more precise and cheaper and one day 3D printed firearms will pose an interesting security challenge. That will require policy makers to make important decisions to regulate a new form of distribution, which in turn will require the cooperation of courts, the ATF, industry players, and state and federal governments. Getting all parties to play nicely and be reasonable is already hard enough as it is – the worst thing that we can do is to start off on the wrong foot with uninformed, breathlessly sensationalist reporting, fear mongering, and gross misrepresentation of what the technology is actually capable of.