It reads like a plot of a dystopian novel: People develop a technology that allows them to manufacture—themselves, in the privacy of their own homes—working guns. Law enforcement is unable to regulate firearms. Chaos ensues.
When a design for The Liberator, the open-sourced and 3D-printed gun, was released last year, worriers could take some solace: The gun wasn't entirely composed of 3D-printed materials. The gun's firing pin—the thing, essentially, that put the fire in the firearm—was made of metal. And metal is extremely difficult to use as a material for 3D printing.
Until ... it's not. A company called Solid Concepts, which specializes in direct metal laser sintering, or DMLS, has created a gun, it claims, that is composed entirely of 3D-printed metal. The gun is not only fully metal-made; it is also capable of firing multiple rounds. (Liberator-style guns made of extruded plastic, on the other hand, are at this point able to fire one shot—ever.) The gun Solid Concepts is testing—and, indeed, using as a proof-of-concept—can fire 50 rounds. And be ready for more.
But again: Don't freak out just yet. This doesn't mean that gun enthusiasts and/or renegades will be able to print their own guns anytime soon. "There are barriers to entry that will keep the public away from this technology for years," Scott McGowan, Solid Concepts' VP of marketing, told The Verge. To make your own metal gun, you need expensive equipment. You need people who can operate that equipment. Few outfits beyond Sound Concepts, at this point, have those capabilities.
Then again that will likely change. Solid Concepts' gun isn't so much about what is right now as much as it's about what's possible. And, as a proof of concept, it suggests that 3D metal printing can, indeed, be used to manufacture a firearm. Which suggests in turn that legislators and regulators should probably start thinking, right now instead of later on, about where DIY weapons will fit into our brave new world.