Picture a typical Friday evening at London’s St. Pancras train station with travelers trying to get away for the weekend. You board a train leaving for Paris after going through a vigorous safety check, which includes walking through a metal detector and having your bag scanned. You finally take a seat in a crowded train car when you notice a man standing at the front of the car holding what appears to be a child’s toy gun. It’s clunky, plastic, and crude-looking in that it seems it would fall apart if the man attempted to pull the trigger. In reality, that man is not holding a toy gun but a 3D-printed plastic gun called “The Liberator,” capable of firing a .38 caliber bullet. This scene was a reality on a Friday in May of 2013 when two reporters for The Mail on Sunday downloaded The Liberator blueprints online, bought a £1,700 3D printer (roughly $2,200) printed the 16-part pistol in under 36 hours, purchased one common nail to function as the gun’s firing pin, and smuggled the pieces onto a crowded Eurostar heading to Paris. The two reporters passed through airport-like security, including metal detectors and scanners, though they were not patted down. Once on board the train, the reporters assembled the gun and posed for pictures among passengers who were unaware that a fully operational firearm was on their train.
This experiment by The Mail on Sunday occurred in 2013 when 3D printed guns were first introduced to the world by Cody Wilson, a law student and self-proclaimed crypto-anarchist who founded the company Defense Distributed. Defense Distributed circulates Computer-Aided Design (CAD) files on the internet which contain gun blueprints or instructions that are readable by 3D printers. The Liberator was the first fully functioning 3D-printed gun Wilson created in April of 2013. Since The Liberator fired its first shot in 2013, 3D-printed guns have only become more sophisticated.