The 3D-Printed Gun Isn’t Coming. It’s Already Here.
All you need is a blueprint, a polymer, a printer, and a knowledge of government regulations—so you know how to bend them
On October 9, 2019 — Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year — a young white man attempted to enter a synagogue in Halle, Germany, with what appeared to be at least six homemade firearms while livestreaming via the gaming platform Twitch. Unable to enter the building, which had about 80 people inside, the man began shooting on the street, killing two and injuring two others. The gunman was a 27-year-old right-wing extremist with anti-Semitic and far-right views who had outlined his beliefs in a “manifesto” he uploaded online shortly before attempting to enter the synagogue. During the confusion following the attack, news outlets reported he had committed the atrocity using a 3D-printed gun.
The idea of a mass shooter using 3D printing technology shocked and intrigued those following the developing story from afar. U.K. newspaper The Independent cautioned, “Use of 3D printed guns in German synagogue shooting must act as a warning to security services, experts say,” while the Wall Street Journal screamed, “Is 3-D Printing the Future of Terrorism?”
The threat of the 3D-printed gun has loomed large in the American imagination for nearly a decade. In 2013, Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed — an open-source collective devoted to developing printable guns — unveiled plans for the world’s first entirely 3D-printed gun: The “Liberator,” a clunky-looking, single-shot, plastic beige handgun named in honor of the FP-45 Liberator, a pistol that U.S. soldiers dropped behind enemy lines to resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied territories during World War II. Shortly after Wilson released the files online, the State Department forced him to take them down, jump-starting a debate over guns, gun control, and free speech that continues to pop up whenever 3D-printed firearms are mentioned. Wilson wasn’t penalized for making his Liberator prototype, though; the feds only swooped in once he shared the blueprints online.