OMG! ATF Prints Liberator! It Blows Up! OMG!

“Federal officials have determined that a 3D gun printed from blueprints available online qualifies as a deadly weapon and worry it could evade metal detectors at courthouses, schools and other public places,” huffingtonpost.com huffs. Wait. A gun is a deadly weapon? Who knew? “The ATF’s testing showed that the weapon, while not quite as powerful as most guns, could penetrate several inches of soft flesh as well as a human skull. The Liberator can only fire one shot before it must be reloaded, but ATF officials said that’s all a determined assassin needs.” Yeah, yeah. So what up with the exploding Liberator? Well . . .

Testing found that the type of material used in the 3D printing was critical to whether the weapon would function properly. The ATF produced several versions of the weapon, some using plastic produced by the company Visijet and others using acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic material. The Visijet version actually exploded during the test, as seen in the video above.

I bet Visijet wasn’t all that happy about that. Or maybe they were. Government contracts and all. Still, that exploding Liberator thing kinda runs against the government meme that undetectable GLOCKs, I mean Liberators are A REAL DANGER. So they’ve amped-up the hype.

ATF chief of ATF’s firearms technology branch Earl¬†Griffith said he believed ABS material could be used to create an automatic weapon down the line.

“It is something that we’ve never seen before,” said Richard Marianos, an assistant director at ATF. “It can defeat metal detection, and that’s something we’re concerned about.”

And so they should be, in a lot of different ways. Just sayin’ . . .

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

75 Responses to OMG! ATF Prints Liberator! It Blows Up! OMG!

  1. avatarropingdown says:

    Yep. See, they’re really no threat at all, so forget them and go back to the “more guns for Juarez” thing.

  2. avatarFug says:

    I think a determined assassin would get a real gun. The Liberator is the choice for extremely cocky assassins.

    • avatarSwarf says:

      Cocky assassins with a point to prove.

      • avatarJay1987 says:

        And that point is… hey I bet I’m so good at this I could whack that dude with the crappiest weapon money can print. a single shot plastic .22

      • avatarJay1987 says:

        Assassins that play too much COD and think they are pro l33t.

      • avatarbontai Joe says:

        Cocky assassins that don’t mind having to get within “John Wilkes Booth” range to shoot someone. I sure don’t see this being used from the 6th floor of a building to hit a moving target.

    • avatarwah says:

      Cocky assassins with no desire for their hand,

    • avatarCliff H says:

      I seem to recall a TV show last season – might have been “Justified”, where there was an assassination inside a “gun free zone” federal courthouse, metal detectors and all. It turned out in the end that someone had gotten a 3D printer turned in as evidence, then bribed or blackmailed the evidence clerk to print a pistol for him inside the GFZ. Assassin killed his target, ditched the gun. Pretty slick story. Better than the CSI NY episode where they printed a .38 snubby revolver! They pretended that it actually fired two shots before it blew apart. As if.

      • avatarStinkeye says:

        I don’t think it was “justified”. “Justified” is way too good of a show for such a silly-ass plotline.

        Seriously, guys, ya’ll should be watching “Justified”…

        • avatarConway Redding says:

          Two thumbs up for Stinkeye’s comment. “Justified” is one of my favorite TV shows, and Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder are two of my favorite characters. It makes me crazy that the gap between seasons is so long, and I fear for the show’s future now that Elmore Leonard is dead.

  3. avatar505markf says:

    Automatic weapon down the line… my ass. Some bureaucratic enemy is trying to envision how to regulate these under the NFA.

    • avatarCliff H says:

      Defense Distributed already has working plans for an AR lower. Seemed to hold up pretty well in testing. Wouldn’t be very hard to modify that to full auto and slap on a 5.56 upper. Could be it would hold up long enough to empty one 30 round large capacity banana magazine clip. Rock & Roll.

      And as I’ve said before, the Liberators only bow up because they are trying to use all plastic instead of a piece of pipe for the barrel. If all you want is a working pistol (or AR-15) and metal detectors are not your main concern, why not add a little durability?

  4. avatarBDub says:

    In other news, so….are….hammers.

  5. avatarAccur81 says:

    The Liberator and the Liberator hand grenade.

  6. avatarC says:

    At this point in the evolution of plastic guns, i still think a knife is a would-be assassin’s better bet if choosing between the two.

    • avatarPaladin says:

      with a ceramic blade an undetectable knife is quite conceivable, ceramic kitchen knives are already available.

      • avatarC says:

        Hell, you can make a decent pig sticker out of plastic.

        • avatarMark N. says:

          I am pretty sure that Cold Steel already does. Edges of course are dull, but the pointy thing that goes in will get the job done. I also seem to recall that it is advertised as defeating metal detectors.

        • avatarSwarf says:

          Not one that’s invisible to the backscatter PornoScano 6000. Caught my Chapstick, which I didn’t even think to remove.

        • avatarC says:

          That’s why you have ass cheeks, Swarf.

        • avatarCliff H says:

          When I was in the Army I had a “CIA pig-sticker”. It was made of black nylon, totally undetectable by metal detectors, even in airports, and actually took a reasonably good edge. Good enough for slipping 4 inches of nylon between someone’s ribs, anyway.

        • avatargreat unknown says:

          for slicing, glass is even better

  7. avatarTotenglocke says:

    So, hypothetically they make this 100% out of plastic and get it through a metal detector. Would the ATF like to explain how the hell the metal in the bullets and cases is going to get through undetected? Idiots…

    • avatarAnonymous says:

      Toten,

      That’s coming next! The other day I was having this nice dream where anyone, globally, had the freedom to print themselves a reliable (not high quality mind you), semi-automatic weapon they could use to exercise their right of self defense.

      I was thinking… the barrel on the liberator, it can only handle a couple shots before it breaks down – and it is fed a brass cartridge. The next gen liberator should be semi-automatic, ABS plastic magazine fed, where the barrel and the cartridge are one. The bullets could be a non-metallic object. As the gun is fired, the cartridges (and barrel itself) are ejected from the firearm.

      Here are your primer’s right here:
      http://atomictoasters.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/cap-gun-2.jpg

      Powder you would have to buy/make.
      Maybe epoxy bullets?

      • avatarSwarf says:

        Why ABS? Why not UHMW?

        • avatarHave Blue says:

          UHMW has too long of a molecular chain to be 3D printed – it begins to break down. Plus, I’ve never seen UHMW printer filament available for sale.

      • avatarKeith in TX says:

        Ceramic bullets that explode on impact cased in plastic cartridges with non-metallic primers in a full auto that fires a 1,000 rounds per second that never needs reloading because the attached 3D printer makes more rounds as fast as they can be fired.
        That’s what they fear, hypothetical guns that will never happen in their lifetime.

        If this technology is such a threat then why isn’t the military using it to crank thousands of weapons per day?
        Why not print up some tanks and fighter aircraft while they’re at it?
        Oh, and lets not forget printing up some nukes along the way as well.

        Now they have a whole list of new hypothetical weapons to worry about that the public can just print up on a whim from the 3D printer at the public library.

        I hope that keeps them awake at night thinking about all that hypothetical terror.

        • avatarRich Grise says:

          ” full auto that fires a 1,000 rounds per second”

          I want one of those movie Uzis that has infinite bullets and zero recoil.

    • avatarCA.Ben says:

      It actually wouldn’t be too hard. Just think of all the items that get to go around the metal detector in the little trays. Here are a couple ways you could go about the whole thing:

      -disguise cartridges as earphones, with black sharpie and the soft tips.
      -empty out the contents of a car key fob, insert cartridges.
      -buy a metal-containing wallet, hide cartridges in it.
      -hidden pouch under belt buckle.
      -buy a cheap, old, thick cell phone. Empty out contents, insert cartridges.

      With a little ingenuity, there are a million ways to get small metal objects around the detectors.

      • avatarCliff H says:

        On Burn Notice he cleaned out the inside of a disposable camera and inserted a stun gun. At the metal detector he just tossed it in the tray with his keys and change, then picked it up when he passed through. No x-ray, not metal detector, if he had a use for them he could have put maybe 6 bullets in there instead. Hell, you could probably fit a complete North American Arms .22 LR in a box that size. I know they will fit in a cigarette pack. (Don’t ask me how.) Oh, okay, back in 1979 I worked airport security at John Wayne Airport and we nabbed one going through the x-ray.

    • avatarJason Lynch says:

      Nothing new under the sun – watch John Malkovich in “In the Line of Fire” for a pre-3D-printer demonstration of getting a polymer handgun and two bullets through security.

    • avatarPeterZ in West Tennessee says:

      Actually, for use at bad breath range a nylon bullet will be quite effective. The cartridge case and primer probably don’t have enough metal (about the same as a dime) to set off the detector. Hell, depending on the settings on the metal detector, a .380 with a 100 gr bullet has about as much metal as a couple of quarters.

  8. avatarDJStuCrew says:

    Does no one remember the Stinger pen gun? It would arguably be innocuous enough to pass through detection along with your change and watch…

  9. avatarJon R. says:

    I don’t get the hysteria regarding the liberator, wouldn’t a knife or shiv made of plastic be even more undetectable (guns use metal bullets) and arguably more deadly in the hands of “determined assassin” than the single shot liberator pistol? I also don’t need a 3D printer to make one either.

    • avatarRich Grise says:

      Why bother? Go to the local neighborhood household goods store and get a set of ceramic kitchen knives.

      • avatarWilliam Burke says:

        The thing about ceramic knives no one talks about: they’re inordinately expensive, and they break REALLY easily. Found this out when my daughter used one of mine to try and break up a box of frozen spinach! ;)

  10. Anyone can buy a real gun at a Gunshow w/o paperwork. The ATF should be concerned with 3d printed .22 silencers on rifles. That is what an assassin would use.

    • avatarCA.Ben says:

      I figured that the whole oil filter adapter thing would be the first logical choice for someone who wants a cheap silencer, and isn’t worried by the whole “federal felony” thing. I mean, you can buy the adapter on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Annodized-Liquid-Thread-Filter-Adapter/dp/B00EVDI6TY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384494097&sr=8-1&keywords=oil+filter+adapter+ar15). It only becomes illegal when you attach the oil filter to the end of a barrel, and start shooting. And it’s incredibly effective, as long as you cover up the holes on the bottom of the filter. Hickock45 did a video with a (legal) oil filter silencer. Super quiet, and much more structurally sound than a 3-D printed can.

      • avatarRich Grise says:

        But good luck getting an oil filter and adapter through the scanner, which is the point of the plastic thing after all.

        • avatarKeith in TX says:

          Print up a plastic adapter and a plastic oil filter… ditch that, print up a plastic oil filter that threads right onto the barrel without an adapter, or just print up a plastic suppressor and be done with it.

          If you have access to a 3D printer you can achieve anything you can conceive.
          Your imagination is your only limits.
          Just think of the money one could make printing up high demand costly items…
          scrap that idea as well, skip all that and just print your own gold bars.

  11. avatarGov. William J. Le Petomane says:

    Great, now Ahmed knows to use ABS.

  12. avatarWilliam Burke says:

    They should do this a lot more often.

  13. avatarSamuel Leoon Suggs says:

    Am i the only one upset by their failure to mention the fact that the liberator requires metallic ammunition and a metal firing pin in their little fear mongering diatribe about it being undetectable to metal detectors? Also why didn’t you point that out Farago?

    • avatarCliff H says:

      I’m pretty sure the Liberator, as a design, was never intended to be your EDC. It’s main purpose was to teak the BATFE and anti-2A politicians by showing that they cannot prevent people who want guns from just making their own.

      The thing is a clumsy, inaccurate, one-shot wonder. While it might in theory get through a metal detector its bulk seems to make it a little difficult to conceal.

      If all you want is a single-shot non-metallic pistol you could make a similar and I expect more svelt design that used black powder, a ceramic bullet, and used a common wood kitchen match for ignition. If it was me, I would use that one shot to take out someone with a real gun, then go from there.

  14. avatarRich Grise says:

    ABS? How about polycarbonate? Nylon? Delrin? Fiberglass? Carbon nanotubes? Graphite composite? Stycast?

    Or here’s a radical idea – what if we quit assaulting them and making new little terrorists? Does anybody have any idea what Bush and now Obama are trying to accomplish by pissing off thousands and thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t even care that we existed?

    • avatarJake F. says:

      Indeed. Glass-filled polyamide is a viable, printable solution NOW.

      • avatarHave Blue says:

        The problem with fiber- or mineral-filled feedstock used in FDM type printers is that the reinforcing phase doesn’t cross between road boundaries (the ‘threads’ or material extruded by the nozzle). The printed parts are thus highly anisotropic (read as “splits along the grain”). Those of us who dabble with 3D printing applications in hobbyist gunsmithing are investigating higher strength materials, but generally those materials require temperatures hotter than what our machines can run.

        The SLS process works a little better for filled materials, and this is in fact what Magpul uses for their prototyping needs. Photopolymer processes, however, are really bad for mechanical qualities, as the ATF discovered (I figured they would have taken note of DD’s original AR lower receiver test, which used a photopolymer – the buffer tower broke after 7 rounds).

  15. avatarMark N. says:

    There is caseless ammo, or one could go the old black powder route to keep pressures down. All we’d need is a nonmetallic projectile. And rather than a semi-auto, it would be much easier to design a revolver, even one that is manually advanced. With thick plastic chambers, I bet you could still manage four rounds.

  16. avatarMurray says:

    Earl has been watching too much Startrek, he needs to get out more

  17. avatarMurray says:

    Sorry guys got to go again on this, its the size of a brick so non concealable, very low powered, inaccurate and one shot so an assassin would need to be standing right next to the target with no possibility of escape as he/she would be without any self defence capability so not a sensible choice or the assassins Earl sees everywhere; note to Earl – there are pills for that.

    In that situation surely Earl should worry about things with an edge or things that explode.

    Things which explode are illegal already but knives aren’t, surely this then implies that in Earl`s world (planet Earl) every suburban housewife and mother is a potential assassin (possibly even Mrs Earl) and therefore should have a background check or be registered before she is permitted to either handle or purchase another knife!

    Earl needs to get a life get out more and consider joining the rest of us on planet earth.

  18. avatarwheelgun says:

    So, the ATF and the current administration have concerned themselves greatly over the last year or more with these dangerous high capacity firearms that carry and shoot multiple rounds, and now they hate this little single shot thing because they can’t track it and it would be the “choice of determined assassins.” I really dislike these people. The Shannon Watts of the world and these liberal govt types have abandoned The Constitution as the governing document of this nation. Why is is that we (the people of the gun) have to defend these rights from people like this? Why is it they are always wanting to take something away from us? They say they want reasonable solutions etc. but they really want disarmament and control. It irritates me that when they don’t like something they want to take it away from others. I’m not trying to take anything anyway from them. Leave me and my rights alone! They are God given and protected in the Constitution and they have no right to take them from any of us especially because their precious feelings got hurt.

    Sorry, Rant off.

    WG

    • avatarRich Grise says:

      ” their precious feelings got hurt. ”

      I think that’s kind of the foundation of hoplophobia. They know that if they ever got their hands on one that, since they have no self-control, they would go on a rampage and shoot everybody who ever hurt their widdle feelings, and of course, we all know about “projection.”

  19. avatarTommy says:

    The Undetectable Firearms Act is set to expire Dec 9th. ATF produces some tests and states ” an assassin only needs one shot” then voila, Undetectable Firearms Act 2.0

  20. avatarRandallOfLegend says:

    In the case of the ATF’s Liberator, bringing a knife to a gunfight may actually be a good idea.

  21. avatarTT says:

    Does anyone think that the only thing standing between society and assassins is metal detectors? I used to contract in DC and I’d have to go through metal detectors throughout the city maybe 3-4 times a day. Some were actually on but I went through more than one on a regular basis with $2-3$ in quarters in my pocket and nary a peep. I think some of our federal agents have been watching too much James Bond if they think the liberator is going to lead to assassins. Plus, couldn’t a $10 trip to the hardware store provide enough material for a couple of non metallic zip guns? This is just ridiculous.

  22. avatargreat unknown says:

    Government funds well-spent: during research on the best materials for printed guns to save the printing community trial-and-error. Otherwise, why publicize the results? [Yes, that last bit was cynical].

  23. avatarSAS 2008 says:

    I thought the whole point of the liberator was to point out to people that are too clueless to have already realized this, that they can’t truly regulate or eliminate all firearms. The ability to build your own has been around for hundreds of years. I don’t see this step forward in technology as a game changer. The idea that technology is magic is ridiculous. When we have replicators that are affordable enough for anyone to own or are distributed as part of government program (sarc) I will be impressed.

  24. avatarJeremyT says:

    I wish they’d just spend more time approving NFA papers…

  25. avatarRockOnHellChild says:

    We can use phases from the anti gun folk’s play book, “No one is trying to make plastic guns, quit being paranoid…”

  26. avatarThe Original Brad says:

    Ahh yes, the good old PC US of A GOV. Forever trying to find the bomb, or in this case the gun, and ignoring the bomber. There’s a reason the Isrealis are experts at defending their borders, it’s because they are the only ones doing it right. Do they have failures, sure they do, but so do we, even with all our body scanners and civil liberties violations. Let’s make more inanimate and practically useless items illegal and ignore the actual problems, all in the name of making us safer. Which we are not. Every year we give up more freedom to get that elusive safety and every year we get less an less. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

  27. avatarRalph says:

    Wait — are you trying to convince me that the government did something that blew up in its face?

    Inconceivable!

  28. avatarPeter says:

    The ATF needs to perform more tests in order to determine the optimal material for printed firearms because any would be terrorist doesn’t have the time to do them all himself.
    Oh, wait..maybe not the smartest idea. Maybe they should claim the worst material is actually the best. Then watch for guys with bandaged hands.

  29. avatarJus Bill says:

    This proves beyond any doubt that the Government is completely incompetent at propaganda. Which is why there are contractors.

  30. avatarGS650G says:

    Considering the short range of this gun a plastic knife is probably as great a threat and doesn’t need to be reloaded.

  31. avatarMadScientist says:

    Meh, the liberator is about 15 design generations ago.

    Now we of the community have 5-6 shot pepperboxes revolver designs, some entirely plastic and bulky, and one 22lr design that’s palm sized and uses hydraulic tubing as a barrel liner.

    We have AR lowers designed for 50 Beowulf, and lowers that integrate the stock buffer tube and grips, we even have a semi automatic in development that uses a glock barrel.

    Cody Wilson accomplished his goals and left the game, but the plastic gun has evolved way past the liberator.

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