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2 Investigators: Can 3D Printers Be Used To Make Untraceable Plastic Guns?

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Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Pam Zekman serves on CBS 2 Chicago’s...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Imagine a gun that can’t be traced and can pass right through security without being detected.

A Texas man announced last week that he’d made one using something called a 3D printer.

Gun rights advocate Cody Wilson assembled and fired a gun made almost entirely out of plastic.

“I recognize that a tool might be used yeah to harm other people,” Wilson said, “That’s what it is. It’s a gun but I don’t think that’s a reason to not do it.”

Law enforcement officials disagree.

“There’s no argument for this type of gun,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart who noted that in gun control debates various interest groups have defended certain kinds of guns saying they are legitimately used for game hunting or marksmanship.

“The only purpose for this gun would be to sneak it past security measures,” Dart said.

Wilson made the plastic gun using a $10,000 dollar 3D printer. He then put the design data on his website. More than 100,000 people downloaded the files before the government shut the website down.

3D printing is a relatively new technology. A Chicago company, called The 3D Printer Experience is hoping to bring this technology to the masses.

They use machines priced from $2,000 up to $250,000 to make everything from decorative lamps to toys and human busts.

But, says co-owner Mike Moceri, “We will not print any guns or any replicas of guns or anything that resembles a gun. It’s a strict policy with The 3d Printer Experience. ”

So how does it work, an object can be scanned or its design uploaded. He showed us how the 3D printer then builds layer upon layer of plastic and 40-minutes later it’s ready.

“Are you concerned that this technology is being used to make guns?” Zekman asked.

“It disturbs me because I think this technology is supposed to be used for good,” Moceri said. “It not supposed to be used for nefarious reasons.”

“I don’t think that it’s easy to actually 3d print a gun,” Moceri added, “mainly because 3d printers today they’re not 100-percent out the box ready for consumers to necessarily use.”

He pointed out that the plastic used in the cheaper machines easily breaks apart so it’s not really suitable for making a gun.

Wilson’s gun reportedly broke apart after several firings and and Matthew Spenko, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology says we are a long way away from making high quality guns with 3D printers adding.

IIT has been using 3D printers for a decade and showed us a $34,000 model smaller, but similar to the one Cody Wilson used.

Will these machines make a gun that can actually hurt people?

“For now it’s definitely possible to make a gun that’s going to shoot a small handful of times,” Spenko said.

And that concerns local law enforcement officials.

“The notion that a low priced item which it will be down the road can allow someone in their own living room to mass produce a gun that is cheap, disposable and can’t be traced, Dart said, “I don’t know what could be more frightening.”

The plastic guns do require a metal firing pin to work, but Dart points out there are many ways for people to conceal the tiny piece from security detectors.

“If it is kept separately from the rest of the different components for this plastic gun,” Dart said, “It’s not going to be setting off any bells and whistles for somebody.”

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