Back in May of 2013, an anarchist law student named Cody Wilson (as Defense Distributed) made news when he published plans to build a .38 caliber gun entirely out of plastic, using a 3D printer and online plans.
The public reaction was as visceral as Wilson’s was smugly self-satisfied with his “contribution” to mankind. The Liberator handgun was designed as a “WikiWeapon,” an almost-all-plastic handgun capable of making it through metal detectors, and allowing anyone to set up a gun factory in his garage provided he had a computer; an internet connection; an $8,000, refrigerator-sized 3D printer; and some plastic printing filament. It costs about $25 in materials to build.
Since then, Wilson has applied for and received a firearms manufacturer license, which means that the gun itself was subject to testing by the ATF. The unique construction method of the Liberator has created a few issues for consumers… potentially deadly issues that the ever-conscious Mr. Wilson neglected to mention in his original release of the schematic.
One of the most common high end 3D printing materials goes by the brand name VisiJet; it’s much like the plastic used to make light, non-load-bearing plastic parts and prototypes. It was for this type of duty that the original 3D printers were designed. The ATF tested Liberator guns made using both VisiJet plastic and the much tougher ABS plastic that Wilson uses for his own guns.
Wilson’s Liberator has been shown to fire up to ten times without significant damage… at least, it does when it’s produced with ABS plastic. When produced with the more common VisiJet and materials like it…well, not so much:
That’s what a Liberator looks like when it self-liberates a bullet and case from its exploding plastic body.
While it’s fun to imagine an inept assassin’s plastic gun blowing up in his face, we shouldn’t write Wilson’s smug-nosed pistol off as a failure. It might not be completely reliable, but it’s still very cheap, very easy to obtain, can pass undetected through a metal detector, and is quite capable of killing at its effective range.
It gets better, too. In December, the Undetectable Firearms Act expires, allowing makers to sell, own and carry the weapon without the (removable) six-ounce steel cube insert that makes it detectable now. And that cube is only there to make the gun technically compliant. Removing it doesn’t affect the gun’s functionality.
There’s a reason why smart people with an ounce of impulse control just don’t do everything they COULD do. It’s because sooner or later, something stupid is going to happen, people will overreact and the whole thing will blow up in your face. You think you’re worried about your rights now? Just wait…you’re going to wind up creating the very police/surveillance state you fear.