With 3D printers becoming cheaper and easier to procure than ever—companies like MakerBot sell desktop models for just about $2,200—there’s concern people could use them to print off deadly weapons. Now, Defense Distributed, a group that’s attempting to develop a “fully printable firearm,” has managed to successfully fire off six rounds from an AR-15 rifle, built with a lower receiver produced on a 3D printer. (The lower receiver is regulated by the Gun Control Act.) The gun then fell apart. It isn’t their first attempt; earlier this year, supplier Stratasys seized its 3D printing unit from the same group, saying it wouldn’t allow its printers to be used for “illegal purposes.”
This highlights the promise of rapidly developing 3D printing technology—some say it’ll spur another industrial revolution—and also its potential risks, in the minds of gun control advocates and others. “How do governments behave if they must one day operate on the assumption that any and every citizen has near instant access to a firearm through the Internet?” Defense Distributed asks on its website. The days of downloading a gun (or virtually anything else) off the Internet might not be so far away.