A couple years ago, when a 25-year-old law student in Texas said he was going to 3D-print a gun, nobody took him seriously. Then, he actually did it. And then, a lot of people started doing it. Now, it's so easy that some protestors are going make a gun inside the Texas State Capitolwith a special gun machine. This is scary stuff, and it's going to get worse.
The 3D-printed gun debate is a frustrating one for peace-loving Americans. On one hand, it really does feel like it should be illegal to plug in a machine, wait a few hours, and then get a plastic however durable gun that can possibly slip through metal detectors. Guns are dangerous. They kill people. Surely, there should be some sort of oversight.
But on the other hand, there is. It's called the Bill of Rights, and it fully supports citizens' right to bear and manufacture arms. Gunsmithing is completely legal as long as you don't sell the guns you make. However, gunsmithing has historically been a pretty difficult endeavor, requiring metal and woodworking skills to make a sturdy, dependable weapon. The Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco told me a while ago that they're aware of this 3D printing thing, but remain unconvinced that it can produce a "consistently reliable" firearm. But that may not always be the case.
As we all now know, 3D printing a gun that fires bullets requires almost no skills at all. Cody Wilson, the law student who gained fame for creating the first fully 3D-printed gun, didn't even know how to operate a 3D printer when he set out to make a gun. It took him less than a year to design and print his first gun, "The Liberator." Then, he uploaded the files that let anybody 3D-print the gun to the internet, and over 100,000 people downloaded them before the State Department took down files. In the meantime, Wilson showed off an AR-15 with 3D-printed parts that could fire hundreds of rounds. That sounds pretty consistently reliable.
Guess what: 3D-printing a gun is going to get even easier. Less than a week into 2015 and three days into CES, it's already clear that the 3D-printing industry is on the cusp of a significant transformation. So far, we've seen not one but two multi-material 3D-printers aimed at consumers. That means that tech savvy folks willing to spend a few thousands dollars can now start printing things out of composites like limestone, bronze, and iron.