NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Three-dimensional printing is touted as the future. It has already been used to make jewelry, toys, and even medical devices.
Basically anything you can imagine that is a three-dimensional solid object can be printed on what is called a three-dimensional printer. And that includes something deadly – guns.
CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leitner looked at who has access to these 3D-printed guns, and how this movement tests the current legal limits.
In his spare time, Travis Lerol, a 30-year-old software engineer, makes gun parts right in his home.
“You can simply tear them away and file down the edges a little bit so you’ve got a nice smooth finish,” Lerol explained.
Lerol uses a three-dimensional printer he purchased for $1,300 to make plastic gun parts for a semi-automatic weapon. The parts are printed one layer at a time, from the bottom up, and the cost is minimal.
“For this particular part, it runs me about $10 in plastic,” Lerol explained as he displayed one of the parts.
While it may be shocking enough that you can actually print plastic parts to a gun, Cody Wilson has taken it to a whole new level — by printing the entire gun.
The 25-year-old Texas law student is the driving force behind the movement to give everyone access to guns, and he posts instructions on his website, “Defense Distributed,” of how to print a gun.
In just the last six months, he said there have been more than 800,000 downloads.
A hard-plastic firearm called “The Liberator” is the world’s first entirely printed 3D gun. It fires standard .380-caliber bullets.
What makes this so controversial is that the 3D gun parts can’t be traced. The serial number that allows police to track a gun appears on a standard issue semi-automatic weapon, but the printed guns are made of plastic and have no serial numbers.
Wilson said some people call him irresponsible for making untraceable guns, but he said he doesn’t agree.
“I don’t think I should be taking a larger share of the blame than people who are doing terrible damage all over the world,” Wilson said.
Ironically, Wilson said he’s even been questioned by federal agents. He was given a license to manufacture and sell his guns.
“I can make machine guns, short-barrel rifles, short-barrel shotguns on the license I have right now,” Wilson said. “All the things people worry about when they think about weapons are things that I’m now licensed to make.”
David Boehm, a former NYPD officer who now serves as the chief operating officer of Security USA, said the trend is “very scary.”
He worries printed guns will be used by criminals.
“We’re talking about a firearm that can be made every couple hours that’s untraceable, that’s undetectable and that can be thrown away and we would have no idea where it came from or who,” Boehm said.
And some fear 3D printing could make gun control obsolete.
“There’s an urgency to getting this done, and getting it done right now,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)
Israel and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are pushing for the renewal of the Undetectable Firearms Act, which bans guns without metal that can slip through metal detectors. The law would also be amended to include any magazine or firearm component.
“This is the epitome of common sense,” he said.
But Lerol said such concerns are overblown.
“So far as I know, nobody has been hurt with a printed gun,” he said. “It’s not about making an untraceable gun, but using technology in a new way. I’m hoping that someday lots of people will do this.”
As of Monday, the instructions for making the plastic liberator handgun were available online for free.
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