Cody Wilson, creator of the 3D printed Liberator handgun, is suing the State Department for ordering him to remove from online the 3D printing files for his handgun. While his handgun may not take off, there’s speculation that 3D printed handguns will be among handguns of the future.
3D printing has been hailed as the future of manufacturing.
The technology works by building up layer upon layer of material – typically plastic – to build complex solid objects.
The idea is that as the printers become cheaper, instead of buying goods from shops, consumers will instead be able to download designs and print out the items at home.
But as with all new technologies, there are risks as well as benefits.
The gun was made on a 3D printer that cost $8,000 (£5,140) from the online auction site eBay.
It was assembled from separate printed components made from ABS plastic – only the firing pin was made from metal.
Mr Wilson, who describes himself as a crypto-anarchist, said his plans to make the design available were “about liberty”.
He told the BBC: “There is a demand of guns – there just is. There are states all over the world that say you can’t own firearms – and that’s not true anymore.
“I’m seeing a world where technology says you can pretty much be able to have whatever you want. It’s not up to the political players any more.”
Asked if he felt any sense of responsibility about whose hands the gun might fall into, he told the BBC: “I recognise the tool might be used to harm other people – that’s what the tool is – it’s a gun.
“But I don’t think that’s a reason to not do it – or a reason not to put it out there.”
To make the gun, Mr Wilson received a manufacturing and seller’s licence from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Donna Sellers, from the ATF, told BBC News that the 3D-printed gun, as long as it was not a National Firearms Act weapon (an automatic gun, for example), was legal in the US.
She said: “[In the US] a person can manufacture a firearm for their own use. However, if they engage in the business of manufacture to sell a gun, they need a licence.”
Amid America’s ongoing gun debate in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, US congressman Steve Israel recently called for a ban on 3D guns under the Undetectable Firearms Act.
Groups looking to tighten US gun laws have also expressed concern.
Leah Gunn Barrett, from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, has said: “These guns could fall into the hands of people who should not have guns – criminals, people who are seriously mentally ill, people who are convicted of domestic violence, even children.”
3D printing technology has already been used by some criminal organisations to create card readers – “skimmers” – that are inserted into bank machines.
Many law enforcement agencies around the world now have people dedicated to monitoring cybercrime and emerging technologies such as 3D printers.
Ms Baines from Europol said: “What we know is that technology proceeds much more quickly than we expect it to. So by getting one step ahead of the technological developments, we hope and believe we will be able to get one step ahead of the criminals as well.”