Science

DHS doesn't think it can stop 3D printed guns

By Michael Mayday , May 25, 2013 10:11 AM EDT

It appears Cody Wilson, the designer and crypto-anarchist behind the first 3D printed gun, "The Liberator," has gotten his point across to U.S. authorities charged with regulating and monitoring guns.

His point: that, due to the nebulous nature of the Internet and the ease of manufacturing with 3D printers, gun control in the conventional sense is all but useless.

An internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo obtained by Fox News shows the agency is concerned that control over 3D guns may be out of its hands:

"Significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printer files for firearms components, and difficulty regulating file sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns," The memo said. "Limiting access may be impossible."

And it's not for a lack of effort by the U.S. government. The State Department's Office of Defense Trade Compliance successfully ordered Wilson's Liberator design to be pulled down from his non-profit website, Defense Distributed. But the files for printing the gun were on his site for two days, and it was downloaded over 100,000 times. Since then, the gun files have popped up on other file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay and Kim Dotcom's Mega, though Dotcom later ordered the files removed.

While Wilson's original file features a space to insert a non-function piece of metal in order to make the gun compliant with federal law, it doesn't mean that another user will follow Wilson's exact design. Users can easily design the Liberator to either remove the metal insert, or craft the gun to make it resistant to the forces of firing a bullet. The latter case has already been realized.

The DHS is also worried that - if a 3D gun is used in a crime - the agency won't be able to trace the gun's owner through ballistic tests. The memo also suggests that, as 3D printing technology improves and gets cheaper, printers will be able to craft more sophisticated weapons.

"Proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production," the memo said. "Even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these digital files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files."

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