A Texas man has fired the first shot from a gun he made using a computer and a 3D printer, and he’s now making the blueprint available for free download.
It’s a development that has lawmakers in Washington scrambling to regulate a technology that has also proved to be very beneficial.
When Engineered Medical Systems (EMS) needs to make a new medical device, Brad Wheeler turns to this 3D printer first.
“You just lay it on there how you want it to come out and then click print and that’s it,” said Wheeler, the Engineering Manager for EMS.
Once he loads a 3D blueprint on the computer, the printer begins replicating it in layers that are several times thinner than a human air. Instead of ink, the machine uses a UV sensitive liquid plastic.
“The light hits it and turns it solid, and it just builds it up layer by layer,” Wheeler said.
In about seven hours, Wheeler has finished prototypes for medical devices, which cost less and take much less time than they used to.
“This gives you something that you can feel in your hands and you can see how big it is,” Wheeler said. “And get a real sense for how the product is going to turn out.”
But what if that product is a plastic gun that can shoot real bullets? What if that gun comes with a blueprint that’s free to download for anyone with a 3D printer?
That’s exactly what University of Texas Law student Cody Wilson has done. He calls the gun “The Liberator”. The only part of the gun not made by a printer is the small firing pin.
The Liberator is already generating buzz around the world and it’s got the attention of New York Senator Charles Schumer, who wants to ban 3D firearms.
“Now anyone, a terrorist, someone who is mentally ill, a spousal abuser, a felon, can essentially open a gun factory in their garage and the only thing they need, a computer and a little over a thousand dollars,” Shumer said.
Although you can buy a 3D printer online from Staples for around $1,300, experts say they likely wouldn’t be able to recreate the gun, which was printed on a $8,000 machine.
Wheeler says EMS uses a $34,000 printer, but says he still understands the concern about guns as printers evolve and drop in price. Still, he says regulation of the new technology will be difficult. He compared it to regulating the internet.
“The possibilities seem limitless,” Wheeler said. “You have no idea where this thing is going to go, but you know in ten years it will be common place and people will probably be using it for good and people will probably be using it for less than good. You know, people are what ultimately make the difference. They’re going to be the one’s choosing what to do with these things.”