Can 3D Printing Boost Gun Safety?
Cody Wilson, founder of Wiki Weapon, test-fires a semiautomatic rifle with a 3D-printed ammunition magazine holding 30 bullets.
CREDIT: Defense Distributed
3D-printed gun parts have alarmed U.S. lawmakers who worry about 3D printing making gun control almost impossible. But a Cincinnati startup wants to help change 3D printing's perceived role by making the technology part of the solution for gun safety.
The 3DLT startup is looking to fund an "Innovation Challenge" that rewards designers for making 3D-printed versions of gun safety technologies. Some existing technology examples include a magnetic lock that only unlocks for gun owners wearing a special magnetic ring, and a "safety bullet" that prevents kids from accidentally firing the weapon and still allows gun owners to eject the bullet and have live bullets ready to fire within seconds.
The gun safety project represents an answer of sorts to the controversial "Wiki Weapon" project that aims to build the world's first gun made entirely from plastic 3D-printed parts. That project has already led one lawmaker to call for the renewal of a federal ban on plastic guns that can sneak past metal detectors.
The Wiki Weapon founders, organized under the name Defense Distributed, previously tested a 3D-printed receiver for an AR-15 assault rifle that fell apart after just six shots. But they recently made progress in a different direction by testing a 3D-printed version of a high-capacity ammunition magazine.
A Wiki Weapon video posted on Jan. 12 showed one of the project founders successfully firing 86 rounds from an AR semiautomatic rifle by using a 3D-printed version of a 30-round ammunition magazine. Cody Wilson, Defense Distributed founder, told Forbes that he hoped the demonstration proved the uselessness of banning high-capacity magazines when anyone could simply 3D-print the parts at home.
Wilson made the Wiki Weapon philosophy and political stance very clear by aiming a pointed question at gun control advocates during the beginning of the video: "How's that national conversation going?" (His words represented a reference to the House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's call for a "national conversation" about gun control in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.)
Several 3D printing companies have reacted to the possibility of 3D-printed guns by clamping down on such efforts. Stratasys withdrew the licensed use of its 3D printers by Wiki Weapons last year. More recently, MakerBot removed the digital files of 3D-printable gun parts from its online design store in the days following the Sandy Hook school shooting.
By comparison, 3DLT has aimed for the middle road in the gun control debate by focusing on gun safety as something everyone can agree on — even if gun control advocates may want to see more done to prevent gun violence.
The 3D printing startup set the goal of raising at least $1,000 by Mar. 11 through the crowd-funding website Indiegogo. Any donations would end up split between operating the contest and rewarding contest winners who come up with the most creative gun safety solutions.