Entertainment & Arts

V&A museum to display printed gun

One of Cody Wilson's printed guns, acquired by the Victoria & Albert museum
Image caption The gun was assembled from separate plastic components - only the firing pin was made from metal

A working gun created using a 3D printer has been acquired for display by London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

The firearm, dubbed the "Liberator", was first made and fired by Texan law student and self-described anarchist Cody Wilson in May this year.

It attracted intense criticism from anti-gun campaigners, especially after the blueprints were posted online by campaign group Defense Distributed.

The US government later demanded they be removed.

The group complied, but not before the design had been downloaded 100,000 times. It is almost certain that the blueprints still reside on file-sharing websites and forums.

The V&A will display two prototypes of the weapon, as well as one disassembled gun, as part of the London Design Festival which is running from 14-22 September.

Initially, these will be copies - printed in London - as Mr Wilson has so far been unable to obtain an export licence for the originals.

In a statement, the museum said the acquisition was "representative of current trends in design and society".

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Media captionThe BBC's Rebecca Morelle saw the printed gun's first test in Austin, Texas

Unlike conventional weapons, the Liberator is made out of plastic on a 3D printer. Many engineering firms and manufacturers use these machines to test prototypes before starting large-scale production.

While desktop 3D printers are becoming more popular, Defense Distributed used an industrial 3D printer that cost more than £5,000 to produce its gun. This was able to use high-density plastic to withstand and channel the explosive force involved in firing a bullet.

Before making the Liberator, Mr Wilson got a licence to manufacture and sell the weapon from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The 25-year-old said the project was all "about liberty".

"There is no doubt that this is a major step," said Kieran Long, a senior curator of contemporary exhibits at the V&A. "And I think it is the V&A's job to help people to ask how they want the world to be."

Discussing trends in 3D printing with The Guardian, Mr Long added: "So far people have focused on the ability to print out things at home, such as toys, but this seems to be only part of it. In my view, the gun blew all that away.

"It showed the fuller implications of the dissemination of the means of production. Everybody is now potentially a manufacturer."

Image caption The V&A also acquired these "ear chairs" designed by Rianne Makkink and Jurgen Bey

As well as the printed gun, the V&A announced four other new acquisitions illustrating trends and developments in contemporary design.

They include a home-made toaster, and a set of "ear chairs" which have exaggerated headrests to allow the occupants greater privacy.

The items were acquired through the Design Fund to Benefit the V&A.

Museum director Martin Roth said: "The generosity of supporters of the Design Fund ensures that the V&A is able to acquire for our permanent collections some of the best and most exciting design projects of our time.

"This year's acquisitions reflect an interesting combination of new technologies working with traditional crafts."

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