Video: 3D-printed gun fires first shot

Demo vindicates Cody Wilson, founder of the controversial group behind the project, Defense Distributed.

Fulfilling his promise to unveil the world’s first operational 3D-printed firearm, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson invited Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg to watch the weapon’s first shot at an undisclosed private shooting range outside of Austin, Texas, this weekend.

As Wilson had previously told Mashable, the gun is composed almost entirely of plastic material made with a 3D printer. Dubbed “the Liberator” after the single-shot pistols that Allied forces dropped into France during World War II, the gun consists of 16 total components, Forbes reports. Fifteen of those components are plastic made with an $8,000 Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer. The only piece of the gun that wasn’t made with the printer was the firing pin. For that, Defense Distributed used a simple nail purchased at a hardware store, Forbes reports.

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In the 8-second video posted to Greenberg’s YouTube account, the gun fires a single .380 handgun round without sustaining any damage.

The gun successfully fired its first shot when an engineer pulled a 20-food string that was attached to the trigger, a safety precaution to prevent injuring someone holding the gun in case it backfired. The gun did misfire on a second shot, “when the firing pin failed to hit the primer cap in the loaded cartridge due a misalignment in the hammer body, resulting in an anti-climactic thunk,” according to Forbes. The Liberator has yet to be fired by hand.

Since the private demonstration with Forbes, Defense Distributed has made the CAD file for the Liberator’s design available on Mega, the file-sharing service launched by MegaUpload founder Kim Dotcom. Photos of the gun’s parts and a self-made promotional video are available on Defcad, the community site run by Defense Distributed.

The demonstration is a major milestone for Defense Distributed, which has sent waves throughout the legal and political communities since announcing its plans to create the world’s first 3D-printed gun last summer. The group has also created a functional magazine capable of holding 30 rounds for an AR-15 assault rifle, and in March it was granted a federal firearms license from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

New York Congressman Steve Israel quickly responded to the demonstration by calling for a renewal of the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which banned the production, sale, or possession of guns that are not detected by metal detectors or airport X-ray machines. The law expires in December 2013.

Last December, after Defense Distributed’s designs for parts for 3D-printed weapons were attracting national attention, Israel made a similar plea to Congress regarding the renewal of the bill.

"Congress passed a law banning plastic guns for two decades, when they were just a movie fantasy," Israel said. "With the advent of 3D printers these guns are suddenly a real possibility, but the law Congress passed is set to expire next year."

On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer from New York, a long-time gun control proponent and the author of the 1994 Assault Weapons ban (which has since expired), backed Israel’s request for legislation banning the production of 3D-printed weapons.

“A terrorist, someone who’s mentally ill, a spousal abuser, a felon can essentially open a gun factory in their garage,” Schumer said in a press conference on Sunday.

However, the demonstration appears to be just the latest step for Wilson and Defense Distributed in a process that is moving along faster than legislators can regulate it.

“I feel no sense of achievement,” Wilson told Forbes after the successful demonstration. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is cneagle@nww.com.

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