German police to begin making 3D-printed guns to test effectiveness

Driven by both a justified concern over home-produced plastic firearms and a desire to explore the potential for cheaper police weapons, German law enforcement picks up a 3D printer.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
2 min read

Defense Distributed's "Liberator" 3D-printed handgun. Defense Distributed'

The 3D-printed gun may find its most robust testing program in the German police force. 

When asked by Germany's Left Party in parliament whether 3D-printed weapons were a legitimate concern, the Federal Criminal Police, known as the Bundeskriminalamt, or the BKA, said it had purchased a 3D printer to see whether inexpensive, mostly plastic, and quickly produced firearms are in fact a real threat -- or perhaps even a cost-cutting measure for the police themselves.

Since May, when nonprofit Defense Distributed produced the "Liberator" handgun and whipped up an international debate by posting the designs online, 3D-printed firearms have become sensitive ground within the otherwise exciting, and safe, maker movement. 

The company that initially sold the Dimension SST printer to Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed reclaimed it, only to see the same model find its way to Wilson via a reseller. When the plans went online, Kim Dotcom made a splash by pulling them off his file-hosting site Mega, which resulted inevitably in the blueprints going up on The Pirate Bay.

This domino effect created by the first fully functional 3D-pritned gun was understandable, and now the German police have taken a step in trying to make sense of the threat level. But naturally, as is the case with testing most weapons, the BKA may need to watch out. 

The Australian police of New South Wales recently tested a Liberator handgun, but with cheaper plastic and on a $1,650 3D printer. The result was that the $35 plastic firearm exploded. To be fair, Defense Distributed's functional Liberator was made on a second-hand Dimension SST that cost $8,000.  

Despite that, German authorities will likely be testing the Liberator, along with 3D-printed attachments for controversial firearms such as the AR-15. Depending on the proliferation of 3D printers and the inability of federal governments worldwide to crack down on uploaded blueprints, this preemptive measure to understand the limits of the technology may be a prescient move.