Gun enthusiasts release open-source kits
for 3D-printed Wiki Weapons

| 20 comments

3D-printed guns

News: a group of libertarian activists in the U.S. plans to distribute open-source blueprints for homemade 3D-printed guns, provoking questions about the potential uses of the increasingly affordable technology.

Defense Distributed, the activist group led by Texas law student Cody Wilson, has just received $20,000 in funding for its Wiki Weapon project to create instruction kits for working guns. Individuals would be able to download the kits and use them to 3D-print their own weapons at home, sidestepping the need for a gun license.

News of the project comes just weeks after another American hobbyist became the first person to successfully build and fire a 3D-printed gun. Michael Guslick claimed to have fired 200 rounds from his .22 calibre pistol, which he made by fitting a 3D-printed plastic receiver – the only part of a gun that requires a license in the U.S. – to the other gun components, which don't have to be registered. Guslick said he then adapted the components to make a semiautomatic rifle (below).

3D-printed guns

Anab Jain, founder of the collaborative design practice Superflux, drew attention to Guslick's homemade gun and the legal and ethical questions it posed at last week's Global Design Forum in London. Making guns with 3D-printing technology might seem "unsettling", she told the audience, but it points to the dramatic changes that lie ahead as design expertise, technology and equipment become more accessible to individuals.

"The old rules and regulations about who is the designer, who is the manufacturer and who is the distributor change when people have the tools and opportunities to become the designer, manufacturer and distributor themselves," Jain told Dezeen today.

"The problem is that sometimes we get so scared about new technology and just think about the worst case scenario, which is what happened with GM [genetically modified food]," she added. "It's about making sure there is a possibility to debate these things instead of just becoming passive consumers and saying, ‘tomorrow I can order a 3D-printed gun if I want’."

3D printing technology has become significantly more accessible recently, with retailers now offering the printers for as little as $600, but the legality of homemade guns remains an unresolved issue.

On its website, Defense Distributed states: "It is legal to produce any category of weapon you could ordinarily legally own, so long as you are not providing it for sale or are not prohibited from possessing firearms in the first place." These rules would only be relevant to U.S. citizens, however. "If you are in another country, proceed with the expectation that every bit of this is illegal," the website adds.

Today the group made public a letter it had received from StrataSys, a company that makes 3D printers, cancelling their lease of a printer and stating that it was company policy "not to knowingly allow [its] printers to be used for illegal purposes." Meanwhile, the group has announced that computer files for its 'WikiWep' prototype plastic handguns will be made available for download in the coming weeks.

Digital manufacturing and open-source design have dominated the debate at this year's design fairs. Following Milan's furniture fair in April, Dezeen's editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs explored the new era of digitally driven production in a post for our series on technology and design. You can see all our stories on open-source design here.

We also recently reported on a robotic 3D printer that makes architectural structures from sand or soil – see all our stories about 3D printing here.

See all our stories about technology »
See all our stories about the Global Design Forum »

  • tom

    What a fantastic idea, lets all make objects that can kill people at home! Fantastic! Dezeen I’m appalled you would even display this, take it down!

  • James

    Dezeen should display the article as we need to be updated on both positive and negative aspects of 3D Printing.

  • Luis

    @Tom This is an extremely relevant discussion for designers to be having. There is an incredible shift of access to designers at the moment. With the good, also comes the bad… and this is indeed a very interesting consequence to having this accessibility. It's a revolution for sure…

  • mert

    If you watch the video on the Defense Distributed website, it’s plainly obvious that the guy is just pontificating right-wing/Texan Libertarian idiocy. The fact is, anywhere in the world one can already get a hold of a gun for fraction of the cost of a 3D printer.

  • aaron

    It’s a scenario that was predicted by criminologists and lawmakers long before the technology was available… and now it’s here. This is proof that we’re entering a whole new era in ethics and law-enforcement. Dezeen and the design world cannot ignore this story just as biologists cannot ignore that similar technologies are being used by independent groups to synthesize DNA to ‘grow’ viruses, drug, organs, etc.

  • Jeff

    I don’t see a problem with this. If you have the knowledge to manufacture a gun with a 3D printer, chances are you would have no problem making one with a mill and a lathe. This isn’t about homemade guns though, it is about the relationship of regulation and technology. Primarily how regulation tends to be at least 20 years behind technology, and when it finally catches up, lawmakers take the “BAN ALL THE THINGS!!” approach (i.e. SOPA, CISPA).

    • DFB

      I disagree. 3D printers are currently available for a price comparable to a high-end laptop, and printable files are as accessible as MP3s. If a middle-schooler can figure out how to burn a bootleg Blu-ray, how difficult can it be to download and print weapons? The level of craft, and cost of tools in this scenario are far lower than what you are suggesting, and will, without a doubt, soon become cheaper, easier to use, and more sophisticated.

      I am not suggesting that the digital sharing of physical objects is a bad thing, in fact, it is sure to bring about amazing and widespread benefits. It does, however, pose entirely new and disruptive ethical questions. People thought the debate around music and movie piracy was a big deal; just wait until we advance through a few more generations of MakerBots.

  • http://dailygrail.com/ Red Pill Junkie

    "Meanwhile, the group has announced that computer files for its ‘WikiWep’ prototype plastic handguns will be made available for download in the coming weeks."

    Fastest way to get the attention of the NSA to your web browsing, I reckon!

  • Marco

    I might have missed something, but the only thing being made is the assembly framework of the gun isn’t it? If so, couldn’t one do the exact same thing (‘make a gun’) with a role of duct tape?

    It seems very attention hungry for a rather unimpressive story to me.

  • http://www.northwards-design.co.uk chris

    It’s an interesting topic that was broached by a presenter (Michael Hopmeier) at the recent Fab Lab conference in NZ. His point was that when these (undesirable) things happen, governments have a history of reacting badly – and could perceivably ban the technology (as Jeff states above). He was asking whether there is a route where manufacturers produce machines, or parts, that law enforcement could trace how and where objects were made on a 3d printer – akin to the markings on a bullet from a gun giving, or that fact that Xerox machines embed invisible codes into photocopies that enable law enforcement to track the exact make, model, place and time a photocopy was made (for the tracing of ransom notes etc).

    There was a FOSS advocate, Mako Hill, arguing that it is up to the community to police activities – and that people will always do bad stuff. If you have the right machine tools and ability, the instructions for making a ‘real’ gun are just as accessible – yet no one has said – ban all lathes and milling machines.

    It is a topical debate, but as a community we can’t afford for uninformed governments to make bad decisions, so answering questions of how we deal with these issues seems pressing.

  • Zachary Neel

    Dezeen, thank you for posting this story. It addresses a multi-faceted issue, and I doubt it was posted for inflammatory purposes.

  • Woycester 89

    This discussion is complete bullsh*t and pointless. The pieces you print out of any 3D printer don’t have the tolerances nor the stability needed to be an effective gun, let alone printing it with a DIY printer. Just because it looks like a piece of a gun doesn’t mean it will be working.

    If you want to kill people you can find much better instructions on building bombs on the Internet, and in the US you can buy guns in the supermarket anyways, so what is the whole point of the discussion here?

  • Michael

    I will weigh in here with an opinion as both a gun owner, and believer in the right for ALL individuals to own guns.

    The only part of the gun that is truly serialized is the upper receiver. This contains the firing mechanisms and firing chamber. Everything else can be readily purchased, mostly unregulated (stock, sights, trigger, magazine, barrel). They are supposed to regulate the upper receiver, to keep citizens from having weapons that are as effective as the ones our military/law enforcement use.

    This way gun purchases can be regulated in some form or another, whether with the purchaser or the dealer. The part of the weapon, that does not necessarily need to be of ballistic strength, is the lower receiver, or the body of the weapon. There are many companies that make the lower receiver, but due to popularity or cost, may make assembling a custom weapon cost prohibitive. Coupled with regulations on upper receivers, many weapons are not available to the community.

    3D printing, social media sharing of receiver designs, and demand have created this market. At the moment, this website is only listing parts for an AR-15, and two training handguns. With the myriad of parts on the market, this tool can allow weapon design to happen on a social, public level. This is one of the few industries (due to cost, and simplicity of how firearms work) that it can be free-market supported.

    Even outside the scope of weapons manufacturing, expanding the market of socially designed and shared ideas is really an incredible idea. This concept is not new, but with the cost of weapons, and their over-regulation in the US; this could significantly lower the cost on the market for making and selling of rapid prototyped goods. From the libertarian perspective, this is yet another example of how central government planning, cannot see all the possibilities that a natural market can create.

    • tnt

      HAHAHA Michael “This concept is not new, but with the cost of weapons, and their over-regulation in the US, this could significantly lower the cost on the market for making and selling of rapid prototyped goods”. OVER-REGULATION? Are you serious? Every idiot can have a gun – you really think that’s a good idea?

      If anything, major under-regulation. There’s no country worse in the world, maybe some war-ridden countries in Africa or the Middle East where you can find Kalashnikovs in every other waterhole for free. Sure, people kill people, not guns, but without a gun it’s at least a fairer fight, if one goes that low in their argumentation about gun ownership.

      • Michael

        Because when Government regulates something, it ends. Just like drugs, prostitution, killing and theft. I agree that idiots should not own guns, let alone vote, but if my vote may negate theirs, and my gun protect me from the idiots with guns, then this is what is needed for all individuals to be free from tyrants of all forms.

        Regulate: control or maintain the rate or speed of (a machine or process) so that it operates properly.

        Laws that keep law-abiding citizens from having a means of defending themselves from the non-law-abiding who can obtain anything through the black market are over-regulation. The world’s most evil empires were the ones that banned guns, while the most free nations made no laws against them.

  • scaro

    This would foil metal detection at airports, schools, etc. This is not good news. Although not yet readily availabe to all regular Joes, it will be easily attainable to anyone with some spare cash for an RP machine and some interest in carrying an unregistered weapon. Scary.

    • Harold Thomas

      Your fears are unfounded. People said the same thing about plastic framed handguns like Glocks, and it’s complete BS. This would not foil metal detection anywhere. Only the Lower Receiver was printed from plastic. All other parts are off the shelf. The bolt, carrier, barrel etc are all still steel, and the upper is aluminum. An AR receiver (particularly for a 22lr) is a low stress part. Even for a lowly 22, all those other parts still need to made from metal.

      As for being easily attainable, a drill press and all necessary tools for creating an AR receiver in aluminium (as per the “real” ones) is CHEAPER than a 3D printer and results in a more durable part.

  • Ovcharka

    There is nothing illegal about making your own rifle receiver in the United States. Its been done for a long time. As long as the rifle you are making is a known design, (an M4/ AR15 in this article) it is totally fine. I don’t have a problem with not registering it either. This is America.

    As long as the USA is concerned, it is wrong for the printer companies to call this action illegal.

    I for one, would rather pay the $100 dollars for a real blue-printed forged aluminum receiver, than shell out more money for a polymer SLA or SLS rapid prototyped copy.

    • Michael

      One would argue the legality part is on behalf of the companies who own the patent, and intellectual property on the receivers themselves. This could be likened to creating counterfeit weapons. If you were printing a 1911 frame, which was never patented, you could certainly say it was 100% legal.