When high tech gunsmith group Defense Distributed test-fired the world’s first fully 3D-printed firearm earlier this month, some critics dismissed the demonstration as expensive and impractical, arguing it could only be done with a high-end industrial 3D printer and that the plastic weapon wouldn’t last more than a single shot. Now a couple of hobbyists have proven them wrong on both counts.
One evening late last week, a Wisconsin engineer who calls himself “Joe” test-fired a new version of that handgun printed on a $1,725 Lulzbot A0-101 consumer-grade 3D printer, far cheaper than the one used by Defense Distributed. Joe, who asked that I not reveal his full name, loaded the weapon with .380 caliber rounds and fired it nine times, using a string to pull its trigger for safety.
The weapon survived all nine shots over the course of an evening, as you can see in the YouTube video below. (The clip was filmed by Michael Guslick, a fellow Wisconsin engineer who helped Joe with his tests and who is known for printing one of the first working lower receivers for AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.)
Joe’s proof-of-concept could raise the stakes another notch in the growing controversy over 3D printed guns, an idea that threatens to circumvent gun control and let anyone download and create a lethal weapon in their garage as easily as they download and print a Word document. The first successfully fired 3D-printed gun that Defense Distributed revealed to Forbes earlier this month, dubbed the Liberator, was printed on an $8,000 secondhand Stratasys Dimension SST printer, a refrigerator-sized industrial machine. In testing, that prototype has generally only been fired once per printed barrel. The gun printed by Joe, which he’s nicknamed the “Lulz Liberator,” was printed over 48 hours with just $25 of plastic on a desktop machine affordable to many consumers, and was fired far more times. “People think this takes an $8,000 machine and that it blows up on the first shot. I want to dispel that,” says Joe. “This does work, and I want that to be known.”
Eight of Joe’s test-fires were performed using a single barrel before swapping it out for a new one on the ninth. After all those shots, the weapon’s main components remained intact – even the spiraled rifling inside of the barrel’s bore. “The only reason we stopped firing is because the sun went down,” he says.