20:18 GMT28 January 2020
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    Here are some facts about the 3D-printed guns that everyone’s talking about.

    A company named Defense Distributed has been allowed to publish the blueprints for 3D-printable guns online, following a three-year legal row. On Monday, the company reported more than 1,000 blueprints downloaded, and the figure is most likely much higher by now. So here's everything you need to know about printable guns to stay up to date.

    The process of 3D-printing is basically making a thing out of heated plastic thread. The technology was first developed back in 1980s but only gained popularity in 2009. The printers are limited to specific plastic compounds, so structures they create have limited durability.

    The first weapon that could be manufactured by 3D-printing was the Liberator. The bulky, single-shot gun, which looks more like a children's toy than a real weapon, was designed by Cody Wilson, a self-proclaimed post-left anarchist and the founder of Defense Distributed.

    The blueprints were downloaded more than 100,000 times before US State Department demanded they be removed from the web because online publishing of the schematics violated gun export laws. The ban did not forbid the company from selling the blueprints offline, though.

    ​While the Liberator is printed from a specific plastic suitable for 3D printers, it includes a metal hammer, because the plastic is not sturdy enough to fit for the role. The hammer was supposed to be made out of common nail.

    Printing a Liberator in the US is only allowed if a metal block is injected into the gun's body so it becomes detectable by security systems.

    The sturdiness of the Liberator remains debatable, as some earlier firing experiments have led to the weapons shattering. During another experiment in 2013, the Liberator, printed on a consumer-grade printer, successfully survived 9 shots.

    Defense Distributed also provides schematics which, along with a $250 computer-controlled milling machine called the Ghost Gunner, enable the crafting of some components for a homemade AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle.

    ​The lower receiver is the only gun part a US person cannot buy without a background check. However, Defense Distributed sells receivers that are only 80 percent finished (hence the nickname "80% lower"), which technically means they are not firearms (or parts thereof), according to US law. Consumers have to carve the receiver themselves using a Ghost Gunner or other tools, then buy other parts one by one and assemble the gun themselves.

    ​The lower receiver can also be 3D-printed from plastic, but the quality and reliability of the final product are highly debatable.

    The fact that a person can print a gun barely changes the status quo regarding gun violence, according to experts. Printing a gun requires a reliable and precise 3D-printer, which costs money, and a lot of manual labor on finishing and assembling the parts. At this point, the process is barely easier than creating a traditional makeshift gun out of metal and wood, the experts say.

    From a legal point of view, the Liberator is the same as any other makeshift gun, having no serial number and being untraceable. Creation and possession of ghost guns are legal in the US, but manufacturing them for sale is not.


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