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How 3-D printed guns work



3d printed gun
A 3-D printed gun on
display in 2013

Oli Scarff/Getty

  • Eight states announced on Monday that they were suing
    the Trump administration over giving the public access to
    blueprints for 3-D printed guns. 
  • The guns do not have serial numbers, people
    printing them would not have to undergo background checks, and
    the weapons would virtually be


Concern over the rise of
3-D-printed guns has hit a climax as eight states announced on
Monday that they were suing the Trump administration for allowing
the public to download blueprints for such products.

The move would allow the public access to working guns that can
fire real bullets, potentially including AR-15 semi-automatic
assault rifles.

Because the guns can be printed
at home, they do not have serial numbers, people printing them
would not have to undergo background checks, and the weapons
would virtually be untraceable.

As of Wednesday,
Texas-based Defense Distributed will be able to post blueprints
for a variety of guns
, including its most common, “The
Liberator,” as well as an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, a
Beretta M9 and other firearms.

The weapons are printed in pieces
through a 3-D printer, and the user then assembles the gun him or

The only metal on the gun is the
firing pin and the bullet itself. 

Some plastic guns can evade metal detectors,
with only the small firing pin and a piece of steel put in to
comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act,

CBC News


Each gun is reusable and fires a
different number of rounds, depending on the type of firearm made
with the 3-D printer.  

3-D-printed guns can be lethal and fire hundreds of
rounds, but they aren’t durable

3-D-printed guns aren’t as
durable as traditional guns, and many shooting ranges ban them
from being used.

Defense Distributed’s “The
Liberator” has been known to break after one discharge, but
founder Cody Wilson has been working to strengthen the gun

Cody Wilson
Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, shows off a magazine
he 3-D-printed for an assault rifle in 2013. Wilson’s company is
the subject of Monday’s lawsuit.

Distributed via YouTube

“There are a few types of guns
that can be made on 3-D printers now, although none of them are
reliable or have any type of substantial commercial quality that
you might expect in a real gun,” Wilson told

He added: “It doesn’t take a ton
of knowledge or expertise. It might take a lot of

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives made a report on The Liberator and other
3-D-printed guns public in 2013, CNN

At the time, ATF Firearms
Technology chief Earl Griffith called The Liberator a “lethal

Officials said a gun made of the
plastic ABS-M30, which is often used in toys, fired a
.380-caliber round without failing eight times in a row.

The bullet traveled eight to 11 inches into a piece of gelatin
made to simulate human soft tissue. A commercially available .380
pistol fired a similar round that traveled 18 inches into the

Another plastic-made gun, however, called the VisiJet, exploded
into shards when it was fired, according to the report, analyzed
by CNN.

And German tests of 3-D-printed guns show weapons made out of
plastic PLA materials could bend or deform after firing.

When a “mostly” 3-D-printed
semi-automatic gun was created in 2016, its creator, a
middle-aged man from West Virginia who went by the pseudonym
Derwood, said he had to use some metal to complete it.

The gun’s barrel began to melt after about 18 shots if it wasn’t
allowed to cool before firing, according to
. In total, he said he fired more than 800 rounds.

Blueprints for 3-D-printed firearms could be available
soon — without a background check, proof of age, or

A government settlement with Defense Distributed last month
allowed the Texas-based company to make plans for 3-D printed
guns available online, years after it was ordered to cease
operation on such blueprints.

Defense Distributed founder Wilson first published downloadable
designs for a 3-D printed firearm in 2013, and they were
downloaded approximately 100,000 times, according to the
Associated Press
, before being shut down.

He sued over the shut-down in 2015, and the State Department
settled in June.

As early as Wednesday,

Wilson’s company could be allowed
to republish blueprints

, allowing Americans to again download
untraceable plans for 3-D guns.

A lawsuit filed by several states asking the Trump administration
to stop the blueprints from being available says that anyone can
become a member of Defense Distributed without a background
check, according to
US News and Report

Defense Distributed doesn’t to
ask for a proof of age or a valid permit or gun license, making
it easy to surpass what a customer might go through when buying a
gun at a store.

Access to 3-D printers is still a hurdle

3-D-printed guns are printed in several plastic parts that the
user has to assemble on his or her own. Wilson said it takes
about 24 hours to create a pistol.

Although DIY kits for making at-home guns have long been
available online, blueprints would allow easier access to anyone
with a 3-D printer.

Gun experts claim, however, that criminals are still unlikely to
use the blueprints because 3-D printers are still fairly
expensive and the guns deteriorate more quickly than traditional
firearms, TIME

Printers needed to make the guns cost anywhere between $5,000 and

Although 3-D printing is available in most public libraries, many
have banned the machines from being used for unsafe or dangerous
reasons, according to WJHG.

Users on Defense Distributed, who only need to pay a fee and
include an email, username and password to register, can also
share their own designs for guns, magazines and accessories,

CNN reported

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