With controversy swirling over gun-sale background checks, limiting the size of weapon magazines and retaining Second Amendment rights, the problem of making homemade guns with 3-D printers has become a matter of public concern.
Laws mean little if a determined criminal or a hobbyist teen wants to make plastic guns or extra-high capacity magazines, says Hod Lipson, Cornell University professor of engineering and a pioneer in 3-D printing.
"With a homemade 3-D printer, you can print a gun using ABS plastic, the same material that LEGOS are made out of. You can even use nylon, and that's pretty tough," he says. "You won't be able to make a sniper rifle with a 3-D printer and it won't shoot 10 rounds a second, but the gun you can make could be dangerous. And a high-capacity magazine is nothing more than a strong plastic box with a spring. It's trivial to print."
Lipson and co-author Melba Kurman just published a new book, "Fabricated: The promise and peril of a machine that can make (almost) anything." (Wiley, 2013.) The book includes a chapter on "3-D printing and the law," which addresses the legal and ethical challenges raised by 3-D printed firearms. The book also explores 3-D printing's impact on consumer safety, intellectual property, and ethics.
As Lipson and Kurman detail, three-dimensional printers are intended to do the world good. In industry, 3-D printers can make hard-to-find spare parts and complex new devices. Researchers are developing techniques to 3-D print tailored and personalized body parts like he