Only a week after the first 3D printed gun was fired two reporters from the UK’s Mail on Sunday newspaper have demonstrated the security concerns of the weapon by smuggling it through metal detectors onto a Paris bound Eurostar train from London. The 3D files for the Liberator gun were downloaded over 100,000 times before being pulled from Defcad.org after intervention from the U.S. government.
The two reports, Simon Murphy and Russell Myers, bought a 3D Systems CubeX 3D printer from the internet for £1,700 and printed all of the parts for the gun in around 36 hours. The plastic gun parts were hidden on within their clothing and they were able to walk through the airport-style metal detectors at St Pancras International Station without detection. The did not carry a firing pin for the gun or a live round, for “safety reasons”.
Once they had boarded the train they were able to assemble the gun within 30 seconds, although it was not capable of being fired due to the missing firing pin, and of course the missing 0.38-calibre bullet.
Since Defense Distributed first fired the 3D printed gun security experts and politicians have been concerned about detecting these plastic weapons, and after this stunt those in the UK have joined the debate.
“What we need is a review of how we can look at these things and how we can discover them more easily. That will take work and it will cost money.”, said Lord West, former Labour security Minister, “These weapons are extremely dangerous because they are very difficult to detect with the methods we normally use. This is going to be a real problem, no doubt about it. People are going to have to rethink whether we need more checks.”
Although the Mail on Sunday 3D printed gun was printed from the same blueprints as the one that Cody Wilson fired last week there is still the question of whether theirs is actually capable of being fired. The original firing demonstation used a Liberator that was printed using a $8000 used Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer. Whereas the Mail on Sunday reporters used a home desktop 3D Systems CubeX printer and even with a firing pin and 0.38 bullet their gun might not be able to withstand firing.
The Mail on Sunday were advised by firearms experts not to fire their Liberator gun due to safety and legal concerns, so we don’t yet know if it’s possible to 3D print a gun that is capable of being fired using a consumer level desktop 3D printer.
“If Eurostar security can be breached in this way, then so can airport security processes.”, Chris Yates, an aviation security analyst, said. “Authorities should be extremely worried. The obvious danger is that if you have the ability to print out a gun on a 3D printer from a blueprint downloaded online, then the probability is that a terrorist has that capability as well…which could have devastating consequences. They could potentially cause a problem at 38,000ft that would cause the aircraft to crash or be hijacked.”
Although without the firing pin and a bullet the smuggled gun seems just to be a plastic toy, there are legitimate security concerns that the authorities will have to deal with.