When I first heard that files would be made available online allowing people to print guns on 3D plastic printers, I shared the alarm and anger felt by most people in the United States. What makes this situation different and scary is that we now can download and “print” an actual gun. Given that the files are on the internet, it would not be unreasonable to assume the downloads could go viral. It’s only natural then to imagine a headline that would scare any rational person in the room: “Millions Download Gun Files In First 24 Hours.” It brings to mind a society in which mentally ill people, violent offenders and other convicted felons could be walking the streets with loaded and ready-to-shoot 3D printed guns hidden in their coats.
But a closer look points to a different reality. Once I read more about the finished products, the guns didn’t seem as threatening as they first appeared. Since they’re produced by a 3D plastic printer, they’re made of a brittle plastic that wasn’t designed for use in firearms. After just a few shots, many of these guns have shattered under the explosive force of a bullet being fired from their chamber. The guns fire only one shot, and they aren’t accurate. They have a stubby barrel without rifling, so the bullet tumbles out-of-control after it exits the barrel, making it much less accurate than even a 17th-century musket firing a non-tumbling ball. If the files again are made available to the public, what we’ll get is a gun that can blow up in the hands of the user. We’ll also get a gun that is useless for any kind of sport shooting, and because it can only fire a single (inaccurate) shot, it’s virtually useless for personal protection.
So why bother? How can this weapon be good for anything?
Much has been made of the fact that it’s invisible to metal detectors, and this is true to a degree. Cody Wilson, the designer of the gun and CEO of Defense Distributed, has complied with a u.s. law requiring a certain amount of metal to be present in any gun to make it ‘visible’ to metal detectors.
In the case of the Liberator gun, the metal part is not needed to fire the weapon. It’s just a block of steel inserted into the plastic structure to make the weapon compliant. Any maker of the gun can and probably will choose not to put the non-critical block of metal inside the gun. The only metal part the gun requires to be functional is a firing pin, which in this case is nothing but a common nail. Nails are so common that they probably wouldn’t arouse suspicion when pinged by a metal detector. The gun can be invisible to metal detectors as long as the firing pin is uninstalled. X-ray security points don’t seem to offer much of a challenge. When assembled, it looks like a gun and definitely would be spotted by X-Ray scanners. It would be a simple matter to assemble the weapon in a restroom stall once its randomly shaped and hard-to-recognize parts already were transported past an X-Ray security point.
A persistent problem remains, however: how to get a round of ammunition into a secured area guarded by metal detectors: Bullets, casings and primers are made of metal, so any would-be villain would need to find a solution to this dilemma.
To summarize, it’s a weapon that really doesn’t seem all that great, even for nefarious purposes. While it can evade an X-ray scanner when disassembled, it can only marginally get past a metal detector, but it only fires a single shot that is highly inaccurate, and it could injure the user by blowing itself to pieces when fired. I think the most troubling aspect in the public mind about this gun is that it’s a free download that can be printed at home. But the gun itself has so many shortcomings it’s a wonder why Wilson even bothers with it.
Put mildly, the weapon seems like a piece of junk.
Yet there’s one thing that bothers me about it. The gun has so many shortcomings that it seems on the surface to have no effective purpose. In fact it actually does. Hiding below the surface is something insidious, something no rational person would naturally consider.
Forget secured areas, metal detectors and X-ray scanners. Picture an outdoor venue where a candidate is on the campaign trail shaking hands with supporters. Picture a person walking up from behind, raising the plastic gun and firing at point-blank range. No gun needs accuracy if fired only inches from a person’s head, and a bullet tumbling chaotically through soft tissue would practically guarantee the death of a targeted person. I see this gun as nothing but an assassin’s weapon. By accident or design, it seems to have no other purpose but to commit murder at close range. It would take a crazy person to use one in this manner, but here in America, we prove daily that there are no shortages of crazy people who murder people with guns.
I believe we do need to care. And we do need to worry. Not just about this gun, but about the twisted mentality behind it.
In the United States, many people think the 2nd Amendment to our constitution is under siege because the rest of us want common-sense gun legislation. I am one of those people. I share the opinion of many that there’s an obvious connection between the ease at which a u.s. citizen can acquire nearly military-grade firepower and the frequency and severity of the mass shootings and murders in our country. People who don’t hold this opinion nearly always take a militant stance against those who do. They have the viewpoint that owning firearms – any firearm – is not only their constitutional right, it’s what defines them as “being American”. By extension, they feel that anyone who works to diminish their right in any way, no matter how slight, must be un-American, and even (in the minds of some) to be enemies of the state. This mindset doesn’t begin or end with the 2nd Amendment. This mindset is apparent in any of the bitterly divisive issues tearing our nation apart today. Half the people in America wish to preserve the ideals of our founding fathers, while the other half want to tear them down with fear, hate and intimidation.
I wonder about the inventor of The Liberator, Cody Wilson, and what he was thinking about when he devised a weapon that seems to have murder as its only purpose. I wonder also why he chose to call his weapon “The Liberator.” Was it just a catchy name? Or was he thinking that these guns would somehow liberate its users from something through their use? If so, what would they liberate them from? Ideals or principles? Or maybe people with opposing political beliefs.
I would love to hear him explain it. What possible reason could there have been to invent an assassin’s tool and make it free to any person on the internet who wants it?
Today, Aug. 10, 2018, the deadline will expire and a judge will have to reconsider the hold on these files. Let’s hope common sense prevails.