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3-D Printing Technology Can Make Undetectable Guns

DENVER (CBS4) – There's no background check and no waiting in line, just a few clicks of the mouse and you're off to target practice. New 3-D printing technology allows for a person to build completely plastic guns that are undetectable by almost any security system.

Cody Wilson of the non-profit Defense Distributed developed a 3-D blueprint for a plastic gun and posted it online for anyone to download. Within days, they were removed at the request of the U.S. State Department.

"People are now saying this is about more than just guns," said Wilson. "This is about distributed information; this is about the regulation of the Internet."

The U.S. State Department could have been too late. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of the blueprint files were already downloaded. One video by Mashable shows a man who took a plastic gun to the shooting range.

(credit: CBS)

To make the guns, a 3-D printer uses a laser to shape molten plastic layer by layer into different objects.

Brian Evans teaches 3-D printing classes at Metro State University in Denver and says that 3-D printing can be life changing but now it's drawing political attention.

"I think for Cody Wilson it's mostly a political issue, trying to draw attention to gun control and gun rights," Evans said. "I think 3-D printing as a technology got caught in the middle."

The biggest problem with the printing of these guns is security.

Recently Congress and President Obama renewed a ban on guns made out of plastic but they left a large loophole. In the ban Congress rejected a provision that would have required a non-removable metal component on the gun. Without it a plastic gun could pass undetected through a security checkpoint.

CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger tested out the loophole by attempting to go through security checkpoints with a piece of 3-D layered plastic in his pocket. Not once did it draw any attention.

"We are coming up against the reactionary institutions from the 20th century and distributed 21st century technologies, and the two do not mix well together," said Wilson.

Israel's Channel 10 vividly illustrated this new threat as well. They downloaded files from Cody Wilson's non-profit company and created a gun. Not only did it work, it passed through some of the toughest security in the world undetected. At one point the gun was in a room where the Prime Minister of Israel was speaking.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives has done testing and determined that such weapons are a threat, especially for assassinations. They say that printing a gun can take 10 to 18 hours and a 3-D printer could cost anywhere from $1,000 to $500,000.

Philadelphia has passed a bill outlawing plastic weapons, but neither Denver nor the state of Colorado has touched the issue yet.

- Written for by Conor McCue

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