Printing Firearms and Democratizing Manufacturing

"You'll shoot your eye out!"

A printed lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle.

Today I learned about the Wiki Weapon project, which aims to create a design for a working firearm with which anyone can print their own from a RepRap or similar 3D printer. As an exercise in freedom of information, I think that it’s a cool project, at least at first thought. It illustrates how peer-to-peer sharing empowers individuals against middlemen and unjustified authority. However, as an exercise in designing a firearm that anyone can build, employing additive manufacturing doesn’t seem like the most efficient or practical way to do it. It just doesn’t make sense to put in the effort to figure out how to print a plastic barrel through which one can safely fire a round when one can already easily acquire bar stock and a drill press, perhaps more easily than plastic filament. And open source plans for DIY firearms already exist. We already have the means to build and share together. So, beyond testing the limits of the RepRap and its ilk, I don’t think the project will accomplish anything very significant. Of course, I don’t want to disparage additive manufacturing. In fact, I especially admire the RepRap. But, to do a job properly you need the right tools. A 3D printer is the right tool for some jobs, but definitely not every job. At least, not yet.

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