Firearms 3D printer Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed and the Wiki Weapon project has been making wave after wave with every one of his statements, updates, videos and blog posts. He’s been making the circles, with an interview with Vice Magazine and now CNN.
His most recent proclamation is will alarm many, bring hope to a few, but leaves us with our heads scratching. Wilson has said that they will have the technology to 3D print a firearm by “the end of April.”
“Well to have a printable gun — it’s my intention to have that done by the end of this month and we’re at the end of March now so it’s my intention to have it done by April,” he said. This would, in theory, prompt a new era in personal firearm manufacturing and a new paradigm for gun control.
“The assumption is one day the technology will become more ubiquitous and widespread,” Wilson said on “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
“It will fall in price, and materials will be developed in a better place than they are now, so yes, if you were to have one in your home and you have the gun file, you can just click print and have the gun.”
Here’s where we’re stumped. Defense Distributed has already printed a gun. Technically, that is. They have developed a design that can be used to make AR-15 lowers that are tough enough to use with standard centerfire upper receivers.
By legal definition, this one part is a firearm in the U.S. All the other parts of their gun were commercially-produced and bought separately, and the technology to 3D-print their equivalents is still over the horizon. Wilson’s statement that they’ve 3D-printed a gun is true on a technicality, but what they’ve printed, by itself, could only hurt something if you threw it, and you don’t need a 3D printer to make a rock.
So there are a few things Wilson might be getting at.
It’s conceivable that they have developed a more complete lower receiver. Something with a buttstock, pistol grip and all the parts of the action 3D printed. Some of the parts cannot be 3D printed, like the springs, pins, and a handful of other small parts, but that alone would represent a big step in the project’s history.
It’s also possible that the Wiki Weapon project may have developed a new design, a simple throwaway pistol, the 3D-printed equivalent of the Liberator pistol. People have cobbled together shotguns by fitting staplers with pipes, so maybe their big announcement revolves around a similar concept.
This would go a long way towards their cause, which is to let everyone who wishes to arm themselves to be able to do so. It may not be an AR-15, but it’s a start. And giving people access to AR-15 lowers is only important in places like the U.S., where the other parts aren’t regulated. A new type of 3D-printable firearm that can be made anywhere in the world would be a major victory for Defense Distributed.
There are a few ways to 3D print other materials, metals, that they could have tapped for more gun parts. But these cutting-edge 3D printers can’t make hardened steel, and the end products are too brittle to be used to manufacture barrels, bolts and all the other high-stress parts of a gun.
These high-end 3D printers are also outside the scope of the Wiki Weapon concept. They’re industrial printers, not the low-cost, entry-level printers within reach of the general public, and it will be years before something like them becomes available to the 3D printing hobbyist.
But it’s also possible that they’ve just developed an improved lower. Their first attempt only ran for six shots before failing. Their second design withstood several hundred rounds, but after that, we don’t know. Maybe its 601st was its last, and they just ran the “Victory Accomplished” flag up the pole too soon.
If their previous announcements are any indicator, Defense Distributed is gearing up for an official launch of their AR lower receiver, one that addresses the shortcomings of the first designs.
We look forward to finding out what’s in store for this April. But we’ll be fairly surprised if it’s something that can shoot anything without commercially-produced parts. We’re sure it’s going to be a firearm, but we only expect a gun in a narrow and legal sense — not something you can take hot of the printer straight to the range.