When Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed released the first 3D-printed gun files online, he saw it as a logical combination of the First and Second Amendments: a way to make access to firearms as widespread as access to information. Anyone, the argument goes, could buy a 3D printer and put together their own pistol. But while the novelty and promise of 3D printing is real, homemade, unlicensed guns have a long history — and 3D printing doesn't guarantee that gunmaking will be easy.
Earlier today, Australia's New South Wales Police issued a warning on the Liberator pistol. After printing two guns on a $1,700 printer, Commissioner Andrew Scipione issued a warning that the tiny pistols "will kill at both ends," according to the Sydney Morning Herald. To drive home his point, Scipione released video of the guns misfiring, their barrels exploding in testing. Obviously, the police force wants to show the Liberator in the worst possible light: "It is an offence to make, an offence to possess and an offence to use," said Scipione. But enthusiasts have reported problems as well. "Joe," who made the Lulz Liberator pistol, had a barrel explode and experienced several misfires on his own gun. This doesn't mean the pistols are unviable, but it does drive home that making one still requires dedication and care.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mother Jones' Bryan Schatz attempts a much less futuristic task: making an unlicensed AK-47, one of the toughest and most ubiquitous guns in production. Unlike the Liberator, it's not potentially invisible to metal detectors, but buying an "untraceable" kit is legal, and amateurs can put them together with some help from more experienced gunsmiths and a workshop. While it's not as easy as printing a pistol, the results are far more impressive. "Seeing how easy this is, are build parties monitored?" asks Schatz. "Do hand-built weapons ever surface in crimes? Are the cops worried?"