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Distributed defence


Dear Samizdata,

Defense Distributed, a libertarian student partnership, is announcing a project they’re calling the Wiki Weapon. This project’s goal is to test and prove a design for a completely printable, one-use ABS plastic .22 handgun, and to take that design from CAD and port it to a .STL file that will then be freely shared across all major file-sharing platforms to the world. DefDist is anticipating a world where 3D printing becomes much more economical and ubiquitous, and the Wiki Weapon will be one step in providing political and personal leverage to the peoples of that world. The value of such a file’s existence in the future cannot be overstated.

We ask that you please share the project or its video, located at http://PrintableGun.com and http://Indiegogo.com/wikiwep, with your readers and help spread the word that there are intellectual entrepreneurs dedicated to preserving Liberty in a time of almost unopposed statist planning.

Please find the attached press release for your convenience.

Thank you for your time.

You’re welcome.

34 comments to Distributed defence

  • Perry Metzger

    Other than convincing politicians to ban 3D printers, crippling a valuable technology long before it becomes sufficiently entrenched to become unstoppable, what’s the real point here? The whole “we want to ship such a device to every politician” thing is especially irritating. Do the project people simply want to taunt politicians until they do something horribly irritating?

  • chertiozhnik

    “Political and personal leverage” from a one-shot .22?

    And where, except in countries where handguns are legal anyway, is one to find the ammunition?

    All sounds like a scam to me.

  • SkepticalLibertarian

    I agree completely with Perry. The idea is only possibly useful *after* the technology has become widespread to undermine arguments against gun control since prohibition of at least some guns is useless. (and even then it still risks political attempts to cripple future versions of the technology with software to prevent certain things from being printed, or attempts to monitor and censor the net on the excuse they need to stamp out anything which may be designs for guns)

    I clicked on the link to post here for the first time since I think its such an incredibly bad idea. I saw Perry beat me to it, but decided to post anyway in case perhaps seeing multiple people opposing the idea will cause them to rethink it.

  • SkepticalLibertarian

    re: ammunition. Its easier to smuggle than guns, or to print the casing and obtain the ingredients for some form of explosive propellant and do home chemistry than it is to do home manufacture of a gun.

    From Nature:
    Homegrown labware made with 3D printer ‘Smart’ containers can be customized to drive chemical reactions.

    The next frontier for 3D printing: drugs

    Depicting the brain child of Professor Lee Cronin, the chair of chemistry at Glasgow University, the video shows a new 3D printing process he and his team developed to synthesize chemicals. He believes his research could one day lead to low-cost chemical printers in the home that allow patients to print out their prescriptions.

    These illustrate the concept that future technology will make prohibition of many things more difficult.. and will tempt governments to prevent their creation.

  • jsallison

    I read an article in Guns & Ammo way back when that was about homemade firearms in the Philippines. The main sticking point was ammo. The weapons might not have lasted too long due to ill-suited materials but without reliable sources of ammo it was pretty much a waste of time. Black powder weapons, oth, now we’re talking needing a really large amount of peeps to make it worthwhile.

  • Allan Ripley

    Rubbing the noses of politicians in this will likely lead to efforts to prohibit the art. Good. There is nothing like prohibition to make something more desireable. As for ammunition- all prohibited goods become available by some means; in this case, I’d see a .22 ammunition cottage manufacturing industry. Had the Filipinos been slightly less insular, both socially and economically, such markets would have emerged for them, too.

    Really, anything that causes politicans to dampen their collective trou is good with me.

  • The cat was already partly out of the bag with this partly printed gun.

  • llamas

    Completely ridiculous, from start to finish, because it’s completely unnecessary to use 3D printing technology to achieve this goal. And 3D printing is just-about the most-costly and least-apt technology to make such a thing that one could possibly imagine.

    Anyone with marginal skill with common tools can make an extremely-effective, multi-shot .22 using materials that can be purchased at any Home Depot or scavenged from the shoulder of any urban freeway or scrapyard. Anyone with access to basic machine tools (lathe and/or drill press) can make a really excellent, reliable and durable .22. The design principles are simple, well-understood and easily-distributed.

    Assuming that this is even a good idea to do in the first place, 3D printing is just-about the least-effective and silliest way to do it that I could think of.



  • Dave Walker

    I’m reminded somewhat of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FP-45_Liberator – “a desperate weapon for desperate times”, as I’ve heard it called.

    Times are that desperate, in certain parts of the world, now – however I wouldn’t expect those parts of the world to have 3D printers (most don’t have electricity).

    Naturally, I’m concerned about how the design will accommodate the variability in quality of 3D printers and the raw materials they use; designing for a .22 cartridge means that accidents and malfunctions may have a lower likelihood of fatality to the user than if something higher-calibre was used, but I’d still expect to need a chamber and barrel wall thickness of an inch or so, with some source plastics simply being wholly unsuitable.

    Variability of manufacture and resilience of materials also mean that, if the weapon is fired successfully, it must be discarded even if it appears capable of being reloaded – and I’d expect re-use to lead to at least as many accidents as initial poor manufacture.

    I agree this may well have adverse effects on the ease of purchase of 3D printers in various parts of the world, especially here in the UK; also, I’m reminded of the status of the RSA algorithm back in the days of the Crypto Wars – only this time, a software file actually *is* a munition.

  • bloke in spain

    Looking through that website, I see a common problem with innovation. Restricted vision.
    Let’s look at the actual problem.
    Requirement: To impact a target at a distance, with sufficient force to cause significant damage. The device to do so should be easily portable & operated by a simple action.
    And the solution:
    The existing solution starts with metal & the techniques of casting, forging, drilling, pressing, machining etc & leads to the gun as we know it. And what they’re trying to do is to replicate that device using plastics & a 3d printer.
    I think I’d throw away all the preconceived notions about guns & just start with the desired result & the capabilities of the manufacturing process. Maybe add some electronics. For instance, a gun imparts all of the impact force to the projectile within itself because the technology leads towards a device capable of resiting large internal pressures. You can’t achieve that by 3d printing plastics so why try? If you can replicate a device easily & cheaply, why not fire the device at the target using fairly low energies & let the high energy discharge happen on contact, where it isn’t a problem to the user?

  • Alisa

    Bloke: unless you are thinking nuclear bullets, I don’t see where the ‘high energy on contact’ will come from, since it wasn’t there at the time of firing?

  • llamas

    @ Dave Walker – the description of the Liberator pistol as a ‘desperate weapon for desperate times’ completely misses the purpose for which it was produced.

    The idea was to put a functional firearm in the hands of anybody in occupied Europe that could use one, for dirt cheap. I seem to recall that Guide Lamp made well-north of a half-a-million Liberators at a unit cost less than $2. It only had to work once.

    But this was not a battle weapon – there was no need to supply battle weapons into occupied Europe, since they were already awash in the finest small arms that have ever been devised. The purpose was highly-defined – the Liberator gave everyone that wanted to the ability to take small arms away from the occupiers.

    Use this one-shot, throwaway device to kill a German by sneaking up on him – and, hey presto, you have a Kar98 and ammunition (at the very least) and the enemy provided it for you. The OSS actually thought about the problem of arming resistance fighters, and figured out that there was no need to ship them complex and expensive weapons at vast cost in materials and effort – all you had to ship them was a cheap and simple means to take these things from the enemy. In that sense, it was an inspired approach. For every rifle and ammunition you could air-drop to a resistance group, you could drop them 50 or 100 Liberators, each of which was a separate opportunity to take arms from the enemy. It was a simply-inspired concept of force-multiplication.

    To the larger point – the Afridis of the Khyber Pass have been making pattern copies of military small arms for over a century, using only scrap metal and the simplest tools. Many of these copies are completely functional and just-as-effective as the weapons they are patterned off. They don’t need 3D printers, and never have.

    The proposed concept is the result of people being beguiled by the techology and trying to think of ways to apply it to their political directions. They need to sit and think about what they are aiming to do as hard as the OSS thought about it before they produced the Liberator.



  • Llamas wrote: “Anyone with marginal skill with common tools can make an extremely-effective, multi-shot .22″

    I’m not so sure; I have a lot more confidence in my ability to hook up some gadgets and run some software than I have in my ability to become semi-competent at metalworking.

  • bloke in spain

    That’s because you can’t see past the gun/bullet concept which is, as I said, derived from a solution that starts with machined metal.
    The difficulty with a plastic gun is that it won’t contain the energy needed to send a bullet to the target with enough kinetic energy to do any damage. So we break down the problem into 2 parts. You can provide enough energy to send something to the target. A spring system, compressed air, a small charge. The “something” you send is the gun. A projectile, a larger charge & the mechanism to detonate it. The inconvenience that the gun disintegrates on firing isn’t a problem to the user. It occurs at the target. All it needs is to stay together long enough for the projectile to exit its barrel.
    I’m inclined to agree, for an easybuild weapon, the Liberator pattern discussed above is probably more practical. But if you’re trying to design for 3d printing it’s better to design to its strengths rather than it’s weaknesses. Its ability to reproduce quite complex objects simply & conveniently.

  • Alisa

    Bloke, I am not thinking about guns and bullets at all, I am thinking in fairly abstract terms of mass/energy. You need to deliver mass to the target, and then to convert that mass into energy – both (especially the delivery) in a very short time. In order to get enough energy to sufficiently harm the target, you need to send enough mass. Sending that mass with sufficient speed requires energy in itself. Hence the question becomes: how do you supply enough energy to your projectile (whatever it is) to give it sufficient speed, without physical contact with that projectile?

  • Russ

    Since when do legitimate libertarians need to seek political leverage at the end of a .22 handgun?

  • Alisa

    Rob read my mind in his reply to llamas. What llamas and people his age (which would include myself) refer to as ‘common tools’, become less and less common every day – and so do even the most marginal skills of using them. Sad, but true. Of course, that is not to say that llamas is incorrect about the promise of 3D printing of personal weapons.

  • bloke in spain

    Ok Ailsa, first thing to ask is how fast you need.. A typical .22 LR round from a handgun travels at around 1000fps. But it needs that velocity because it’s the kinetic energy that does the damage. The kinetic energy is provided by the cartridge in the gun. I’ve a little .22 airpistol with a range of 50 metres . Pellet crawls along at 250 fps or so, with little kinetic energy. It’ll still hit you before you saw it coming, though. The only other advantage with the higher velocity is the flatter trajectory but, at the sort of ranges you can actually hit anything with a handgun, it hardy makes any difference.
    What I’m suggesting is, you take the cartridge,the firing chamber, the firing pin out of the pistol & fire the whole thing at the target at 250fps. The gun fires on contact with the target.
    A conventional gun works on the basis there’s a lot of skill & time invested in the weapon so it uses simple, disposable ammunition & is reusable. Take the manufacturing investment out of the equation & it doesn’t matter if the gun only fires once. If it only fires once it doesn’t matter where it does so, as long as the energy is transmitted to the target.
    There was a weapon back in the sixties worked a bit like this. The Gyrojet. Simple little alloy thing fired rocket propelled ammunition.
    In a sense this conversation’s reprising the history of projectile weapons. First one used wood technology. The bow. Reached it’s apogee with the English longbow. But it’s failing was the investment of skill needed in the archer to use it. Along came metal & the first attempt to supersede it was the crossbow. A lot more skill invested in making the weapon but much less required to use it. Later you add simple chemistry to metal & you’ve got the firearm. Almost all the skill’s in the manufacture Anyone can shoot one. So now we want to shift the skill of making the weapon to software & machinery. If you’re going to use plastics, why try & copy something better suited to metal? Be like trying to make a longbow out of wrought iron. You actually need to go back & remember what you’re trying to achieve.

  • bloke in spain

    I believe the guys back in ’76 won theirs with a .75 musket. It’s just harder to find people of their calibre.

  • Laird

    Bloke, if I understand what you’re suggesting, it’s to make the projectile itself a “mini-gun”, so the whole thing is fired (using compressed gas or whatever) at a relatively low velocity and it actually “shoots” the projectile once it strikes the target. Is that right?

    If so, why go to all that bother when you could simply use an explosing projectile? Use an airgun to fire a bullet which is actually a small bomb that explodes on impact. Or return to the crossbow concept and use the airgun to fire a dart. It wouldn’t need too much velocity (against an unarmored target, anyway) if it were very sharp and, preferably, barbed. (And poisoned?)

  • bloke in spain

    Mainly, Laird, because the sort of explosive & detonators you’d need to do that aren’t easily available. Not UK side anyway. Or manufacturable. I wouldn’t fancy trying to cook home made explosives that’d be stable enough to walk around with in my pocket. And you’d need a lot of them because a surface detonation expends most of its energy outwards. You are, presumably, aiming for more than a nasty bruise.
    What I was trying for was a solution that would deliver exactly what they were trying for. The punch of a small calibre bullet. And making the devices using 3d printing with little technical knowledge. If you’re up to making quality HE you’re probable up to machining firearms which defeats the object.
    (I do have ‘form’ for this, by the way. My version was a capped length of steel tube containing a 3″ nail with a tack glued head to head as a firing pin & a 9mm starting pistol blank put in reversed. Looseness packed out with rolled paper & mounted on an arrow. Buried the nail in a tree with no trouble. .22LR round from a handgun wouldn’t do much more than muss the surface.
    Technically, no doubt, a firearm under UK law punishable by whatever… but WTF.)

    And it agrees with my design philosophy. Let the available materials & tools drive the design rather than design something, then try & work out how to make it. Which is what I think those guys should be doing..

  • Richard Thomas

    Bloke, I think you would be right if the aim was practical and not political. Though your proposition is interesting in and of itself, c.f. What is the ideal form of a printable weapon. And to address Laird’s concern, what is the killer feature of a printed weapon that would promote it over one made using other methods and commonly available tools. Of course, it must be borne in mind that materials and technology in 3d printing will only improve.

    Weapons indistinguishable from everyday objects might be something to contemplate

  • Rich Rostrom

    chertiozhnik: “Political and personal leverage” from a one-shot .22?

    And where, except in countries where handguns are legal anyway, is one to find the ammunition?

    .22 “rifle” ammunition. Many .22 caliber cartridges are used in both pistols and rifles. For instance, .22LR (‘long rifle’); there are 22LR pistols from Smith&Wesson, Kel-Tec, Ruger, SigSauer, Walther, High-Standard, Colt, Browning, and Taurus – and probably others.

    The choice of .22 caliber for the ‘wikiwep’ was obviously influenced by the availability of ammo. No country which allows rifles could ever ban .22 caliber ammunition.

  • Alisa

    Bloke, when I was thinking about this later, I kept coming back to the thought ‘what he’s thinking is rockets – but then, why doesn’t he just say that?’ Well, I think you now did. I can certainly see uses for something like that. Still, to go back to my original point, in terms of the balance between mass, energy and speed (at relevant distances), modern personal weapons still seem unbeatable, and the only real problems with them are political rather than physical. Therefore, and speaking as someone who’s technical inclinations are more inline with someone like Rob than with someone like llamas, I’d probably be happiest with a one-shot disposable gun that can be cheaply and easily reproduced.

    That said, and speaking of political problems, explosives still remain an issue, no matter how we look at all this (the “Hunger Games” premise notwithstanding).

  • Alisa


  • PeterT

    Does anybody know, is there any evidence that countries with widespread ownership of weapons are any more free than others?

    I can only really see it making any difference when there is widespread agreement that using weapons in self-defence against government is ok. This agreement does not exist in Western democracies, even I think in the US.

  • llamas

    @ Alisa, who wrote:

    ‘Therefore, and speaking as someone who’s technical inclinations are more inline with someone like Rob than with someone like llamas, I’d probably be happiest with a one-shot disposable gun that can be cheaply and easily reproduced.’

    You underestimate yourself.

    I’ll take you to two places – WalMart, and any auto-supply store you like. For less than $50, we will buy all the materials and tools you need, and 50 rounds of ammunition as well. All of this is totally untraceable and (apart from the ammunition) completely innocuous.

    In less than an hour, you, or anybody else, can be shown how to make a functional, safe, effective and re-usable single-shot weapon that uses the .22 LR cartridge. If you’re prepared to saw for a little longer, for the same cost in materials and tools, you can make an absolutely devastating weapon that uses a 20- or 12-gauge shotgun shell. The ammunition will cost a little more. The advantage is that .22 LR is regulated in some places as handgun ammunition, which makes it harder to buy anonymously.

    It really is that easy. You do not need to be a machinist, or any sort of expert. If you can use a hacksaw and a hammer, you can do this.

    For obvious reasons, I’m not going to tell you how to do this here. But (for example) the US Government has actually published some pretty good data for the military on how to build an improvised firearm, and much of this is in the public domain. If you choose to, the Interwebs is filled with this sort of data. In some parts of the world, this sort of gun-making is a cross between a sport, a cottage industry and a necessity for survival. AFAIK and IANAL, it is not illegal IAOI to make or possess these sorts of weapons in the US. They are often referred to as ‘garage guns’, and they are surprisingly-common.



  • Alsadius

    Have they had any luck getting a 3D printer to turn out ammunition?

  • Russ


    Like most Texans, I have what our media would describe as a minor arsenal in the house, but for the “liberator” situation, you don’t need a gun. A six-dollar kitchen knife and the will to use it will do. But that’s really beside the point — if one truly needed that kind of leverage, one’s long past being a “libertarian” and into “combatant.”

  • Mike Solent

    Bloke’s creation is intriguing; effectively he is creating a directional warhead for a device which is delivered to the target at realtively low, possibly sub lethal velocities. similar in aim to the Monroe Effect warheads introduced during the second world and used ever since in infantry anti tank weapons. A good, crude and easily constructable method of delivering such a warhead would be a a spigot mortar, a type of weapon developed by the British during world war 2 and generally forgotten about ever since. Essentially, your “gun” is a metal rod, and your projectile a closed tube which wraps around the front of it. The warhead is attached to the closed tube. Upon firing the rod stays in your hands and the tube plus warhead head off towards the wild blue yonder. A close acquaintance of the Solents experimented with this system in the early years of this century when trying to develop an emergency rope projecting device for use on small boats. Spigot mortars are not firearms under UK law but explosive warheads are controlled under section 5 of the firearms act.
    Essentially skill and resourcefulness have always been the means of circumventing gun control whether for resistance or simply for sheer cussedness. The same acquaintance was one of several people who developed nitro powder muzzle loading pistols to get round the most recent UK Firearms Act. The prototype worked quite well and impressed the Birmingham Proof House.
    There have been a number of Liberator style designs out there for some time, and a number of .22 “zip gun” pistols, including several based on 3/8 UNC or Whitworth bolts. The ammunition problem can be solved in several ways, particularly if you are only after one shot. In a lot of jurisdictions ammunition components are not controlled, although ammunition may be; assembling ammunition without a license may well be an offence. of course you need the knowledge and equipment to do do it although that is inexpensive and easily obtainable. A shotgun primer will with no added propellant fire a light projectile at not inconsiderable velocity, so that might solve the ammunition problem.
    The big question in most jurisdictions is why? Even in the UK, anyone who wants a firearm and is prepared to jump through the hoops can obtain one or several, (knowledge skill and perseverance, again!) and if one wants to obtain a pistol illegally for whatever reason there are lots of easier ways of doing it than creating one from scratch, whether with lathe and drill press or with 3d printer.

  • Alisa

    Llamas: for similarly obvious reasons, I’ll just take your word for it:-)

  • bloke in spain

    Interesting returning to this this issue because it looks like so few understand the point I’ve been trying to make. It’s not about improvised weapons. It’s specifically about using a 3D printer to produce a weapon & the design philosophy needed to do so. Llamas is closest to it. He’s taken the sort of stuff available at a plumbing suppliers as the starting point & designed materials>skills>design which is certainly an improvement on the printer guys who are going design>???
    The uniqueness of the 3D printer is it can simply go materials>design. The skillset isn’t required by the manufacturer. It resides in the manufacturing instructions given to the printer. And because the printer is capable of producing complex shapes to quite high tolerances, it’s close to the skillsets available to an engineering machine shop. The only limiting factor is the materials.
    The suggestion I made was just a quick, off the top way it might be possible to approach a design. On reflection, I now think it might be better looking at incorporating the firing chamber, barrel & the cartridge as a single use module & the grip & firing mechanism as another. For a multi shot version the finished product might look similar to the pepperbox pistols made in the 18th century: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepperbox_pistol (Link) But unlike the original model, the 3d printed version would discard it’s barrels after use. It’s also utilising the particular feature of the 3D printing process. Once you have the design, the only constraint is use of materials. There’s no particular benefit to producing a fully reloadable weapon because there’s no investment of skill & labour in producing it. The only reason to retain the reusable firing module is convenience of use.

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