Morgantown Police yet to encounter a 3D-printed gun, despite new trend

MORGANTOWN — A lot of people are talking about guns and gun control in 2018 and recently the conversation gained a new angle — 3D-printed guns.

Keith Morris, Ming Hsieh distinguished professor of forensic and investigative science at WVU, said that while 3D guns can shoot and kill, the biggest danger is to the user.

“Personally, I would never shoot one,” he said. “I think it’s far too dangerous.”

A man named Cody Wilson posted plans for a 3D-printed pistol called the “liberator” and a court ruling forced several websites to stop allowing the download of the plans, Morris said. A recent ruling however, said that was an infringement of the First Amendment and the plans are back online.

Printing a gun is as simple as drag-and-drop, Morris said.

The material that  3D printers use wasn’t designed to withstand the  pressures that firearms have to withstand and every shot is an opportunity for a catastrophic failure, he said.

Morris said a .22 caliber long rifle, one of the smallest calibers available, has an average chamber pressure of about 24,000 PSI. Guns are engineered to be able to handle that level of pressure and cartridge requirements are standardized to make it safe for the shooter, he said.

The type of injuries a catastrophic failure could cause are outside his wheelhouse, he said, but he imagines the shrapnel would cause serious injuries.

“Imagine a piece of plastic flying at your eye,” he said.

Andrew Stacy, Morgantown’s public information officer, said the Morgantown Police Department (MPD) hasn’t encountered a 3D-printed gun yet.

He said the department treats all firearms the same — “as if they are loaded and capable of destruction” — no matter how they were manufactured.

There’s also the legality of printing a gun. If someone tries to make the weapon more robust — by adding a barrel for example — that suddenly puts the firearm into a category controlled by the National Firearms Act, Morris said.

If MPD officers encounter a gun without a serial number they will work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to determine the origin of the weapon, Stacy said. The department also works with the ATF on any firearm without a serial number.

Morris said he doesn’t think many people will print guns for criminal purposes, but just to test it.

“I think the novelty will wear off very quickly,” he said. “I hope.”

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