3D-printed gun may be unveiled soon

Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, may soon disrupt the nationwide gun control debate with a 3D-printed gun.

A 3D-printed gun capable of firing multiple rounds may be unveiled soon.

Cody Wilson, the 25-year-old founder and director of nonprofit organization Defense Distributed, recently told Mashable that the end product of Wiki Weapon, the initiative to create an operational 3D-printed gun, may soon be ready to unveil to the public.

In a March interview with CNN, Wilson said he hoped to have a printable gun ready by the end of April.

While Wilson was sparse with details, he did tell Mashable that the prototype would be a handgun consisting of 12 parts made out of ABS+ thermoplastic, which is known for its durability and is commonly used in industrial settings. The firing pin would be the only steel component of the 3D-printed gun, which will be able to withstand “a few shots before melting or breaking,” Mashable reports.

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Wilson reportedly anticipates making an official announcement soon.

Defense Distributed has progressed quickly since it was founded last summer. After crowd-funding site Indiegogo suspended its campaign to raise $20,000, Defense Distributed reached its fundraising goal independently in September 2012, through PayPal and Bitcoin contributions to its own site.

In early February, Defense Distributed released a video showing a functional 3D-printed magazine capable of holding 30 rounds for an AR-15 assault rifle. A month later, the group obtained a federal firearms license from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, granting it the ability to sell its firearm-related technology.

"I can now sell the things we make, and am before the law a manufacturer, not a private citizen with regard to these items," Wilson said at the time, according to the IDG News Service.

That development threw a wrench into the nationwide gun control debate.

"This whole issue could obliterate, or at least undermine, the effective regulation of firearms possession," University of Washington law professor Mary Fan told the IDG News Service.

That seems to be the group’s main objective. All along, Wilson has been forthright about his organization’s political goals. The group’s 3D-printed assault rifle magazine was mockingly named “Cuomo,” after the New York governor who helped pass a state law banning magazines capable of holding more than seven rounds.

“Politicians, big Wall Street traders, they have armed guards,” Wilson said in a February interview with Talking Points Memo. “So New York passes a law banning high-capacity magazines and Cuomo says: ‘OK, New York is safe.’ But he should back down from the hyperbole. Not only can it [high-capacity magazine manufacturing] not be regulated, but it’s about to be exploded open right now.”

Still, Wilson maintains that Defense Distributed is a “software organization” aiming to facilitate an open source community around 3D printing.

But that distinction hasn’t appeased his opponents. Stratasys, the company that had leased a 3D printer to Wilson last summer, cancelled its lease upon hearing of his plans and confiscated the printer by the end of September. In December, 3D-printing company MakerBot took Defense Distributed’s designs off its Thingiverse site, which is devoted to sharing digital designs. Around the same time, Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) called upon Congress to renew the Undetectable Firearms Act before it expires in December 2013. The law, which bans plastic guns, was first enacted in 1988.

"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."

These efforts have yet to slow Defense Distributed. The group responded to its ban from Thingiverse by launching its own site, defcad.org. Since March, the site has raised more than $73,000 toward its $100,000 goal to turn the site into a search engine for 3D printable designs.

If Wilson is telling the truth and his 3D printed gun is ready, the fears of gun control advocates will come to life.

"This is a case where the technology could quickly outpace the law," UCLA law professor Adam Winkler said last month in an interview with IDG News Service.

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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