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24 May, 2013 15:38

3D-printed gun malfunctions ‘will kill at both ends’ – Australian police

$35 dollars, 16 parts, 27 hours, a high-tech printer and instructions from the Internet were all it took for Australian police to fabricate a 3D gun powerful enough to penetrate 17 centimeters – a shot that could be fatal.

Police in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) created and tested two 3D-printed guns made with blueprints produced by US firm Defense Distributed and an AUD$1,700 3D printer. Tests conducted with the guns produced both a “catastrophic failure” that could be deadly for the individual wielding the firearm, as well as a shot capable of killing a target.

In the first test, the gun exploded after firing just one shot despite being built to the exact specifications of its inventor, self-declared American anarchist and University of Texas law student Cody Wilson. When discharged successfully, a bullet from the firearm penetrated 17cm of ballistic soap – a block of gelatin used to simulate human flesh.

"Make no mistake they will kill at both ends," NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said. "Everyone is really concerned this weapon is undetectable. One has been smuggled on the Eurostar train in Europe and there is now a major security review.”

The ease with which the guns can be created and concealed prompted the US Department of Homeland Security to issue a May 21 bulletin to numerous state and law enforcement officials warning the firearms might be “impossible” to contain, Fox News reported.

"Significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printer files for firearms components, and difficulty regulating file-sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns," a bulletin by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center said.

Just a week after blueprints for the 3D-printed gun were posted online earlier this month, the US State Department demanded that Defense Distributed, a non-profit group founded by Wilson which promotes the open-source development of firearms using 3D printers, take the plans offline.

Although Defense Distributed complied with the demand, the original blueprints for the gun were downloaded more than 100,000 times and are still available on popular peer-to-peer file-sharing sites. Even Internet maverick and free-information hacker Kim Dotcom asked his staff to delete the public files from his Mega website, calling them a “serious threat to the community.”

The single-shot .380-caliber Liberator is named after the FP-45 Liberator pistol, a throwaway pistol manufactured by the US during World War II to be used by French Resistance fighters.

The only non-plastic part of the gun is a tiny nail that acts as the firing pin, as well as a .380 cartridge it fires. The gun’s inventor is reportedly working on fabricating plastic bullets, a move that would make it nearly undetectable at security screenings.  3D-printed firearms can also be manufactured without serial numbers or unique identifiers, trammeling ballistics testing.

Lawmakers across the US are already seeking a ban on 3D-printed guns, although it is currently legal for a person to manufacture a firearm for personal use.

One law enforcement official told Fox News that universal searches would be the only way to contain the threat of such weapons: “The only security procedure to catch [the 3D firearms] is a pat down. Is America ready for pat-downs at every event?”