Are 'printable' guns coming?

Published On: Oct 29 2012 11:02:12 PM CDT
guns in hands
HOUSTON -

Local 2 Investigates the idea to make "Wiki Weapon" with 3D printer

It's either new technology that could dramatically change the way anyone could get a gun or just a bunch of hype. Either way, the plan coming from a group in Texas is getting attention around the world.

"We don't come at it as being gun nuts," said Cody Wilson, project leader with an Austin group called Defense Distributed. "But gun nuts love the project."

The project is called the "Wiki Weapon" and it takes a little bit for it to sink in. Wilson's idea is to create a computerized blueprint for a gun on the Internet that anyone, anywhere can put on their own computer. Then someone would make the gun by using a new line of 3D printers that would actually take the blueprint and manufacture the gun out of plastic, resin or even stainless steel.

"All we did was hold our hand up and say, 'Hey we're interested in doing this. Would you like the help?'" Wilson said.

Wilson, who is a University of Texas law student, put the idea on YouTube. More than 880,000 views and $21,000 in donations later, Wilson and his admitted amateur team are busily developing the prototype.

"We are not trying to skirt gun control laws," said Wilson. "We are trying to act within the legal regime. But, of course, we're suggesting to people you should have the right to own a firearm no matter what."

That's the philosophy behind it, but is the technology really there to pull it off?

"If you have the blueprint or the CAD file, it's possible to print the plastic model," said Jose Baez Franceschi, a digital multimedia developer with the University of Houston's Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Inside UH's 3D printing lab, dozens of plastic models and objects are on display. They include everything from working tools to prototypes for large kiosks. Experts made them all using computer designs and 3D printers. Certainly there's nothing as complicated as a working gun in the display, but the experts said the 3D printing technology is advancing fast. Franceschi said consumer will soon be able to buy a high-grade 3D printer for less than $1,000.

"What kind of Pandora's box is possible here?" said Dr. Joseph Kaye, a Houston psychologist who works with gun violence victims.

Kaye said he supports gun control and has been listed on the NRA anti-gun organization list. Kaye said his primary concern is that felons, deranged people and even teens could get immediate access to guns.

"The motivation to produce those weapons would be held by anyone having one of those 3D printers," said Kaye. "And what are they going to do with it? Not only can you produce your own weapon, you could do it at will."

A plastic "Wiki Weapon" may also be able to make it through TSA checks at the airport or a metal detector at a courthouse. Wilson realizes the plan could create a serious security concern.

"These are criticisms that should come up," Wilson said. "That's not an excuse to take these goods away from people who aren't breaking the law."

For now, the "Wiki Weapon" is still being developed and there's no blueprint ready.

Other groups on the Internet said they've made components of weapons with a 3D printer, but Local 2 Investigates found no claims that anyone was able to make a weapon with a 3D printer that has actually fired any ammunition. Some firearm experts are not convinced the idea will ever work.

After his idea became a YouTube hit, the company leasing a 3D printer to Wilson ended the lease and took the printer back. But Wilson said his group will continue to develop the prototype.

If they can develop a safe, successful weapon, the plan is to then share the blueprint for free on the Internet for anyone to use.

"We're just trying to do something we think has some promise," Wilson said.