3D printed plastic guns are dangerous, untraceable

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In July, crypto-anarchist and gun rights activist Cody Wilson appeared to have finally reached the goal of a years-long project when the U.S. State Department settled a lawsuit and allowed Wilson’s startup, Defense Distributed, to sell computer files that allow his customers to produce 3D-printed, mostly plastic firearms.

A legal battle ensued in which the attorneys general of 19 states and the District of Columbia sued the State Department over the decision, and another 20 sent a letter to the State Department, imploring them to stop the sales. A federal judge granted a restraining order against Defense Distributed, stopping their sales. However, Defense Distributed had already made the files available for free online during Wilson’s entire legal battle.

3D-printed guns aren’t actually a business venture for Wilson. They’re part of a political crusade. Wilson wants his plastic gun digital blueprints available for all on the internet and is convinced he is doing good in the world by providing them.

After another defeat in federal court on Aug. 27, Defense Distributed stated they will sell the files for their plastic gun, called the Liberator, regardless. Customers can even name their own price – possibly a first for the firearms industry, and further evidence that profit is secondary to Wilson’s endeavor.

The Liberator only has three metal parts within its bulky plastic casing: a firing pin made from a standard metal nail, a bullet and a six-ounce piece of steel. The steel insert serves as a laughably ineffective security measure designed to prove compliance with the Undetectable Weapons Act, ensuring the gun will set off a metal detector. All the metal components are easily removed, and a user could simply opt out of inserting the steel insert.

The Liberator can only fire a single bullet before becoming completely disabled or dangerous to the user, and test firings occasionally end in the gun exploding. But the primitive state of this technology shouldn’t alleviate anyone’s worries; this is only the beginning. The technology is proven (aside from the exploding thing) and the information is universally available online, factors which will inevitably lead to further innovation in the field of plastic firearms.

The danger posed by untraceable, easily produced firearms is obvious to anyone but Second Amendment absolutists. Such a weapon could be sold with no paper trail out of someone’s garage gun factory. There are no serial numbers to track individual Liberators and no way to put together chains of ownership.

And then there’s the whole plastic thing. I don’t know how difficult it would be to get a nail and bullet in your luggage through airport security or metal detectors, but the TSA’s appalling failure rate does not give me much hope, and there’s always the option of bringing just the plastic components and attaining a bullet and firing pin at one’s destination.

Widespread adoption of guns like the Liberator has the potential to flood the world with undetectable and untraceable single-fire pistols, a violent criminal’s dream. Producing and illegally selling these guns would be a simple matter for anyone with access to a 3D printer.
As obvious as it is that this is all a terrible idea, when listening to any given interview with Wilson, one quickly realizes he’s not crazy. He struck me as quite sharp as I listened to him make his case on several radio shows. I was impressed and even a bit swayed by his argument for free access to information.

However, Wilson’s blind spot quickly becomes obvious when he talks about guns themselves. Wilson wants to convince us that there are no moral considerations or consequences involved with his goal of effectively deregulating a type of deadly firearm. If someone uses a plastic gun to murder someone, Wilson argues that crime is completely on the perpetrator, and not at all on him.

But he is responsible, significantly and overwhelmingly so.

Providing unrestricted access to guns without screening for dangerous mental illness or criminal records is gross negligence, full stop. Every future murder or violent crime committed with one of Wilson’s guns is now possible only because of his actions. Sure, those criminals could look elsewhere for guns, but even America’s pathetically impotent gun control regime shuts out felons and terrorists.

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