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Long-time TTAG readers will recall my piece on the original Liberator pistol and the decision on the part of the Allies to not drop it into Occupied France. It wasn’t the first time a supposedly enlightened society has put political power and expediency ahead the safety of its citizens, and as any current resident of Chicago can tell you, it was far from the last . . .

Now we have another “Liberator” pistol, this one designed to be made using a 3-D printer and a nail. The United States of 2013 is not the France of 1943. We have nearly 300 million firearms in private hands. It’s probably much easier for the average man on the street to buy a gun than it would be for him to buy, assemble, and operate a 3-D printer of the required quality. For that reason alone, we can safely assume that the various fantasies being assembled around the Liberator idea by fanatics on both sides of the gun-control won’t come true any time soon. But that doesn’t mean the Liberator isn’t important. To the contrary. It’s the most important firearm of the twenty-first century.

While it’s easy to imagine a future in which 3-D printed pistols provide the oppressed citizens of hoplophobic metropolises an undetectable last means of self-defense against both an increasingly bold criminal element and the militarized police which symbiotically rely on that criminal element to justify their skyrocketing pay and vanishing civilian oversight, it will be quite some time before the reality catches up to the imagination. Right now, the typical candidate for Liberator ownership is somebody who is smart enough to obtain and operate an industrial 3-D printer (or commission Shapeways to make the parts) but who is dumb enough to willingly use a plastic pistol instead of a metal one. In other words, the customer base is firearms-rights advocates.

Nobody else is going to be interested. After all, we live in a country where even the Federal Government itself is occasionally in the business of deliberately selling firearms illegally to criminals. There are millions of guns available to someone who isn’t interested in abiding by our spellbindingly diverse body of firearms regulations, and pretty much all of them are better than the ones you can make yourself out of plastic. The Bloods and Crips won’t be giving up their Tec-9s, or even their Hi-Points, to sport Liberators in gang-appropriate colors out on the corner.

To some degree, the Liberator hysteria is a product of coastal-elite willful ignorance, the mentality that can encompass the 3-D printer and its capability but can’t quite understand the concept of a “machine shop” or the idea that such a thing might exist anywhere outside China. Surely the relative lack of furor over the eighty-percent receiver is due to the fact that the average Manhattanite assistant professor considers a drill press to be only slightly less mythical and magical than Ovid’s Minotaur. I mean, the idea of actually making something out of metal with a drill verges on the fantastical — but using a Mac Pro to carefully split up a Liberator CAD file across three separate commercial 3-D printers, snapping the resulting parts together without difficulty, and then using the resulting contraption to viciously, albeit briefly, shoot up a local school? Perfectly reasonable.

Insofar as it directly serves the cause of American freedom to continue letting Katie Couric think you need a River-Rouge-sized factory to make a Sten gun, let’s not talk any more about that. Instead, let’s discuss what’s really interesting about the Liberator: the fact that it makes the connection between the First and Second Amendments plain as day and clear as crystal to everybody who thinks as Ms. Couric does.

The Liberator is, first and foremost, an idea. It’s a plan. A document. It’s political speech; what’s more political in the America of 2013 than a firearm? But feed that political speech into a machine, and it becomes a weapon. A gun. A Saturday Night Special. Possibly even an assault weapon, if Senator Feinstein gets word of it. The first single-shot assault weapon in history. Speech becomes a weapon. A computer file becomes a gun. Just like that.

Our enlightened leaders know such a thing must not be permitted. But how to prevent it? They could simply ban 3-D printing; there are other reasons to do so, it’s a destabilizing technology, it threatens the market for everything from tools to toys. It would be a tricky bit of legislation to draft, however, and the first politician to break ranks and to promise a 3-D printer in every living room would be unstoppable.

They’ll make the Liberator itself illegal, whether or not it has the requisite detectable metal plate installed, with some ponderous piece of legislation that somehow also includes the Desert Eagle, but last time I checked crystal meth was extremely illegal, more dangerous and difficult to make than the Liberator, and it was easier to find than Elizabeth Warren’s Native American roots. Nope, that’s not going to be enough.

The solution to the Liberator “problem” is this: you make the possession of a firearm CAD build file a federal felony and then you use the government’s considerable resources to find out who has it. You throw aside any pretense of respecting either the First or the Second Amendments and you make the punishment for having that particular series of bytes on your computer so Draconian that the thought of being caught with it is enough to make your average libertarian voluntarily pull an Aaron Swartz. The nerds out there will pull all sorts of trickery with the file — masking it, hiding it in images, encrypting it, printing it out on T-shirts and posters — so you write the law in such a fashion as to make possession of any computer file sufficient justification to unleash Hell. You give the ATF and FBI unlimited, arbitrary power to enforce the legislation. It’s the perfect gift to accessorize their tanks and their stormtrooper outfits and their HK PDWs.

Make no mistake, even in the current political climate, doing what I’ve suggested above would be difficult, possibly even impossible. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t individuals thinking about it. Hoping for it. Trying to make it a reality. And those individuals were elected freely by the American people, and most of them will be re-elected or replaced by individuals ideologically indistinguishable from them.

It’s scary. Scary enough to make you think about printing out a plastic single-shot pistol and setting it aside for a day you hope will never come. Isn’t it?




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    • This is quite possibly the best thing I have ever seen written on TTAG.

      Thank you for rising above previous fare like “Teh Dumb Libtards are takin are freedomz!!!”

      This is superbly well written and I cannot praise it highly enough.

      • When Jack is writing about hot tubs, sports cars, wine and women in one article he’s also got quite a talent.

  1. I think you nailed it with the connection between the 1st and 2nd amendments. That is why this whole story about a plastic gun is so interesting. Very insightful post.

    • I think the 4th could be tossed in there also. If they want to search for people who have it on their computers, they will have to violate it like crazy. Of course we already see that the .gov does not respect our digital data and right to unnecessary search of that data.

    • How is it that no one who isn’t NRA, TTAG or such seems to get the concept that firearm restriction legislation is itself, inherently illegal by virtue of being unconstitutional?

  2. Thank you! Everyone talking about CNC or the technical limitations of the Liberator itself are completely missing the point!

    There is a bigger picture here. In a lot of ways, this is fascist-bait. Time to see who in our government really believes in the Constitution and who just pays lip service. Some of them we know, but I think some are yet to be discovered. This should bring a few more out into the open.

    • If you have deep enough pockets, you can get a laser deposition printer and make Liberators out of magnesium, aluminum, steel, titanium, etc. After printing, you just machine away the rough spots, and there you go. So, there really aren’t any practical limitations on the technical side, either!

      • Oh indeed! This is just the tip of the iceberg. I think of the Liberator as the Wright Flyer of 3D printed guns. It says nothing of the real potential of 3D printing and it merely proves what can be done.

        The technical limitations of the Liberator will be overcome within a few years at best. It and technology will improve faster than we can legislate.

        Unless the government becomes transparently draconian, in which case people might FINALLY wake up!

    • Absolutely. The Bill of Rights either still applies or it doesn’t. I’m tired of “reasonable restrictions” which give the criminal a strategic advantage such as Gun Free Zones. Now, freedom hating politicians must restrict the 1st Amendment in order to restrict the 2nd.

  3. I hope the USA I love doesn’t depend on a plastic pistol, the AR is another matter. The NY cops appealed to citizens that they were just doing their job…a move not brought on by this well thought out but impractical gun, Randy

  4. Very good write-up, and it highlights a troubling issue that persists with technology and the 1st & 2nd Amendments. The Courts have NOT always ruled in favor of either, especially in the digital age where copies of books and music you buy and have downloaded to your device (such as Kindle, iPad, etc.) have suddenly been removed from their owner’s possession without notice. And if you dare to make digital copies of the hard copy of something you purchased and own – a CD, DVD, etc. BEWARE! Armies of lawyers in the employ of entertainment companies wait eagerly on the sidelines to sue your arse off.

    One can only imagine what robed judges are to make of a digital file containing the blueprints for constructing gun. The dread in the hearts of hoplophobes might be titanic.

    • An important distinction here is that the file is open source, whereas all of those examples involve copyrighted works sold digitally.

      Also there is a very big difference between illegal and unavailable.

  5. Excellent article. Thanks. The tie in between the 1st and 2nd amendments is right on the money. This is going to turn into a can of worms as it forces the issue to be confronted now.

  6. … even in the current political climate, doing what I’ve suggested above would be difficult, possibly even impossible.

    It could happen here. But if it can’t happen here, there’s only one reason it can’t happen here: Because there will be people with guns to stop it.

  7. Excellent!

    The Liberator file is the Martin Luther Ninety-Five Theses moment for the Church of the Hoplophobe!

  8. Very well thought out tie in between the 1st and 2nd amendments, kudos to the writer on that thought process. What shall be interesting and maybe even troubling will be the outcome of the attempt(s) by the government to stifle the distribution of the mentioned material, or penalize the possession.

  9. Totally off topic, but I think that gun needs to replace the piece of metal with a battery and a small light bulb. That would be awesome against the dark background. Just sayin.’

  10. Don’t modern copy machines have the ability to recognize and prevent the copying of US currency? Some beaurocrat will say “Hey, can’t we force the 3D printer companies to install similar prohibitions for guns?”

    • 3d printers are open source. just flash the rom with new “free” software.
      also 3d printers can self replicate so 3d printers can print other 3d printers.

  11. The federal government is an unstoppable juggernaut. If the powers-that-be deem the Liberator to be a big enough deal, they will stop it, using all force, first, second, fourth, tenth, whatever amendments-be-damned. There might be a popular outcry, but I think it would be very muted, because for the government, it would be child’s play to squash this. The average man on the street honestly has very little idea what the constitution says. Furthermore, nobody knows anything anymore unless the media tells them, so all it would take is a nudge from the feds and the airwaves would obediently be full of pro-government propaganda. “These actions are necessary to make us safe, because crazy radicals wanted to print out guns to destabilize society.” “What? Liberator? That’s so last week. Breaking news: The FBI has discovered and stopped another terrorist attack before it could be launched. We should beef up the Patriot Act some more!” A few weeks of this sort of thing and everyone would be mostly mollified. Even if they weren’t….. what are they going to do about it? Sadly, I’d wager the government could publicly burn the Constitution tomorrow, declare martial law, and aside from some formal protests from state governments, nobody would be able to lift a finger in practice, even if every citizen in the country had a Liberator (or an AR-15.)

    • this is what we want. we want the government to over reach and make everyone criminals in their minds. if the government overreaches and makes the majority criminals. then the government becomes illegitimate.

  12. I have a friend in Boston who doesn’t own any firearms – although he has nothing against others having them and votes indeendent – teaches math at MIT and has a Bridgeport milling machine, Ohio Instrument lathe, 12-speed drill pres et cetera set up in his basement with which he and his lovely, Earth-worshipping wife make things out of metal.

    Intricate, complex and precise things. out. of. metal.

    RF, methinks you are prone to oversimplification.

  13. Actually, the wheellock pistol was the first single-shot “assault weapon,” and the subject of the first firearm ban – in the early 1500s. First Austria, then the rest of the “Holy” Roman Empire and finally the independent Italian states and the Balkans banned it.

    It was the only firearm which could be concealed in clothing, in whatever attitude for however long, then drawn and fired with no preparation or delay.

    It was an assasin’s wet dream, the scary black gun of its day.

  14. The greatest impact of the Liberator is the how the media and politicians are taking notice. It’s not like homemade guns are anything new but this one has managed to make serious waves and put those in power on notice that they will never be in control of arms. That’s a good thing.

  15. “Scary enough to make you think about printing out a plastic single-shot pistol and setting it aside for a day you hope will never come. Isn’t it?”

    Nah, I’ll use that drill press and a file…

  16. It’s cute how you all think that the Constitution somehow still applies to daily life. We stopped be a nation ruled by law sometime about a decade ago. When we use the IRS to squelch political speech, when the Executive Branch decides it will not abide by rulings of the Judicial Branch or enforce the laws passed by the Legislative Branch we ceased being a consitutional republic and became a bannana republic.

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