Why all the fuss over the V&A's 3D-printed gun? It's a symbol - not a threat

The 'Liberator' 3D printed-gun has caused a furore in the press, but it's less dangerous than home-made pistols made from a metal pipe and nail

The 3D printed gun is nothing more than “a dangerous toy” according to one of the UK’s leading 3D print experts.  Jonathan Rowley is design director for the company that produced the controversial weapon for the V&A museum.  His team at London 3D print company, Digits2Widgets, are in no doubt about it.  The 3D printed gun is a clever publicity stunt, but in Rowley’s words “Just because you call something a gun, it doesn’t actually mean it is a gun”.

Few things have sparked more public outrage than this device, called the “Liberator”.  The designs (and Youtube video) made by Texan law student and libertarian activist Cody Wilson, claim it is the first firearm that can be freely produced and assembled by anyone with a 3D printer.  Naturally this caused panic because you can buy 3D printers for a few hundred pounds.  The logical conclusion is the grim prospect of every crackpot from Texas to Coventry manufacturing their own lethal handguns at home, with just a few clicks of a mouse. 

It’s nonsense. The 3D printed gun is not meant to be used as a weapon,  It is, however, being used as a publicity vehicle.

 The team who oversaw production of the gun for the V&A exhibit think it’s time we drew a line under the hype.  The example they’ve produced was created to be physically impossible to fire.  This was because, after an ethical debate with Cody Wilson on a BBC radio show, Rowley explains “I made rather pompous statements that we’d never make one, and then the V&A called up asking us to print one for them.  It was a bit of dilemma because I love the V&A.  So we worked out how we could make one without being hypocritical about it.”

The museum needed the gun printed because the example it had originally purchased from the USA had been impounded by customs.  Circumventing customs by printing their own replacement in London was a simple way to get around an otherwise disastrous last minute hitch for their highly anticipated London Design Week exhibition, featuring the item. That is an interesting story about the power of 3D printing, much more so than the actual gun itself.

The Liberator deconstructed: It take's all this plastic, but also a metal firing pin.

Combining the cultural symbolism of the gun with the hype surrounding 3D printing has turned this sideshow curiosity into a global news phenomenon, even though Cody Wilson himself admits this plastic device is little more than a political statement.  In reality, all this device can do is detonate the powder charge within a bullet casing.  A well aimed hammer could do that too, but that doesn’t turn your local DIY store into a gun shop.  The DIY instructions to produce a home made machine gun from bits of plumbing and such have been freely available for years but caused less fuss. 

The downloadable files to print one contain no information about the type of 3D print process and plastics required to replicate it, which renders them practically useless.  Without those crucial manufacturing details there is as much chance of the gun exploding as firing, and if produced on a home 3D printer, unlikely it would even fire at all.  There’s also little chance of hitting what you’re aiming at anyway, due to the simplistic design of the smooth plastic barrel.  “If your definition of a gun is a weapon with any degree of accuracy or reliability, this isn’t a gun ” says Rowley.

3D printing/firearm enthusiasts have not stopped at pistols - a 3D-printed rifle was recently unveiled.  

So if it’s not a gun, what is it? 

It is certainly a successful vehicle for Cody Wilson to claim his fifteen minutes of fame and waffle to the world’s media about libertarian politics. The Mail on Sunday caused plenty of badly informed panic when journalists smuggled one onto a Eurostar train, so it sells newspapers too.  Digits2Widgets’ Chris Sullivan suggests the object is a physical expression of technophobia and belongs in Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum of anthropological artefacts, in their collection of magical amulets and charms.  When compared to any conventional pistol produced in the last 200 years, it’s a red herring.

Given the Liberator’s impact in the public consciousness, the V&A was right to include one in its collection, but not as a landmark in the history of weaponry. It belongs in a museum because it’s the world’s first 3D printed urban legend.

Suggested Topics
Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people'It’s not that people react badly to it – they really don't care'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
peopleJack Monroe accuses David Cameron of 'misty-eyed rhetoric'
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ampersand Consulting LLP: Network / Systems Administrator (LAN, WAN, Windows)

    £38000 - £42000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Netw...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer - 1st Line

    £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support organisation focuses on ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst (Windows, Active Directory) - London £26k

    £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Support Analyst / IT Support Analys...

    Ashdown Group: Part time Network Support Analyst / Windows Systems Administrat

    £30 per hour: Ashdown Group: An industry leading and well established business...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible