WASHINGTON – Computer files to create a handgun almost entirely from parts made with a 3-D printer went online Monday, alarming gun control advocates after it was successfully test-fired by its inventor.
The single-shot .380-caliber Liberator bears a vague resemblance to its namesake, the FP-45 Liberator pistol that the U.S. developed during World War II to be air-dropped to French Resistance fighters.
Computer-aided design (CAD) files for the Liberator appeared on the website of Defense Distributed, a nonprofit group that promotes the open-source development of firearms using 3-D printers.
“We’ll build the trigger first. . . . Next, we’ll build the hammer subassembly. . . . Next, drop the hammer into the frame,” reads the accompanying set of instructions, which come in English and Chinese. “Finally slide the grip on the frame and insert the grip pin. Your Liberator is now ready to go!”
For the Liberator to conform with U.S. firearms law, the instructions call for a 25-mm chunk of steel to be sealed with epoxy glue in front of the trigger guard, so that the weapon can be spotted by metal detectors. The only other nonplastic part is a tiny nail that acts as the firing pin.
Business magazine Forbes posted a video of the Liberator being remotely test-fired outside Austin, Texas, last week, with a yellow string tied to the trigger of the toylike white-and-blue handgun. “The verdict: It worked,” Forbes reported.
Forbes added, however, that the Liberator exploded (“sending shards of white ABS plastic flying into the weeds”) when its inventor, Cody Wilson, attempted a second test using a rifle cartridge.
CAD files for gun parts have been available on the Internet for some time, but the Liberator is apparently the first entire weapon ever to be fabricated almost exclusively with parts created with 3-D printing technology.
Supporters of tougher gun laws in the U.S. — where there are nearly as many guns (an estimated 300 million) as there are people (about 315 million) and more than 30,000 gun-related deaths a year — expressed alarm.
“Stomach-churning,” said New York Sen. Charles Schumer. “Now anyone — a terrorist, someone who is mentally ill, a spousal abuser, a felon — can essentially open a gun factory in their garage. It must be stopped.”
In the House of Representatives, New York Rep. Steve Israel is sponsoring an Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act to outlaw plastic homemade guns.
“Security checkpoints, background checks and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print plastic firearms at home and bring those firearms through metal detectors with no one the wiser,” he said.
No longer prohibitively expensive, 3-D printers can now be bought for about the same price as a top-end laptop computer. Brooklyn-based MakerBot, for instance, markets its desktop Replicator 2 for $2,199 with delivery in a week.