Three months ago, the gunsmiths behind the group known as Defense Distributed announced their intention to create a working, lethal gun anyone can download and 3D-print at home. Now their experiments with actual 3D-printed firearm components and live ammunition have started. And they’re documenting their progress on video.
Over the weekend the project’s founder Cody Wilson posted aYouTube clip of the group testing an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon Defense Distributed assembled with a 3D-printed lower receiver, the highly-regulated component that serves as the body of the gun onto which the barrel, stock, magazine and other elements are attached.
Here’s their video:
The result of Defense Distributed’s experiment: Their home-printed AR-15 piece cracked and fell apart after firing just six rounds.
But Wilson still considers their first test of a partially-downloadable weapon a successful learning experience. On the next print, for instance, Wilson says the group may reinforce the ”buffer ring”–the thin threaded ring at the back of the receiver that attaches to the gun’s stock–with thicker material or ribbing. “We’ll try to see if we can build it up and make it better. That’s a positive thing,” he said when I spoke with him the day after his shooting session. “We’re taking a page out of open-source [development]: Here’s all the information from what we did, so people can immediately benefit from what we’ve done and what we learned.”
A lower receiver has special significance to gun enthusiasts: It’s the central part of the weapon that’s regulated by gun control laws and trackable by serial number. Print your own lower-receiver at home, and in many states all the other parts can be obtained without background checks or even identification.
Defense Distributed isn’t the first to test an AR-15 with a 3D-printed lower receiver, or even the first to do so on video. Over the summer, an AR-15 enthusiast named Michael Guslick wrote a post to an AR-15 web forumdetailing his own experiment in 3D-printable weaponry. In fact, Guslick says he fired over 200 rounds with his partly-3D-printed semi-automatic, many more than Defense Distributed managed.
But Defense Distributed has much greater ambitions. The group eventually intends to 3D-print a full gun from scratch, rather than a mere component. But building that so-called “wiki weapon,” which Wilson says likely won’t look anything like an AR-15, requires a federal firearms license. The group applied for that gun manufacturing permit six weeks ago from the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, but has yet to hear back. In the meantime, following in Guslick’s footsteps and testing out the blueprint he posted to the 3D printing community site Thingiverse represents a kind of educational exercise, Wilson says. “We just wanted to play around with it a little and we thought we could contribute,” says Wilson. “Before we start rocking the boat, we wanted to do something a little less controversial.”
Regulatory issues, however, may be the least controversial element of a project that aims to let anyone create deadly weapons in their garage with the push of a button. When Defense Distributed first went public with its fundraising campaign on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo, the group was quickly banished for violating the site’s terms of service. After the group raised funds again through other channels and rented a 3D printer from Stratasys, the printer company learned of the group’s intentions and repossessed its machine.
But Defense Distributed’s libertarian ideals have attracted supporters, too, including one who offered access to the high-end Objet printer the group used to print its AR-15 piece. Within hours of posting its video to YouTube, other fans were posting positive comments. “Looking good…keep up the hard work!” wrote one.
“Keep up the R&D, boys,” added another. “This is the greatest thing since the Gutenberg press.”
Read about all the details of Defense Distributed’s AR-15 experiment on the group’s blog here.