The V&A, the world's largest museum of the decorative arts, has acquired two prototype Liberator guns, which were developed and successfully fired by Texan law student Cody Wilson earlier this year.
The gun sparked widespread concern over the ease with which weapons can now be produced on inexpensive printers, and the acquisition of such a controversial object marks a curatorial shift by the museum, which has traditionally focussed on hand-crafted items.
"Ugly and sinister objects demand the museum’s attention just as much as beautiful and beneficial ones do," wrote Kieran Long, the V&A's senior curator of contemporary architecture, design and digital, in an opinion column for Dezeen earlier this week. "Museums should be topical, responding quickly to world events when they touch our areas of expertise."
Wilson made the guns available for anyone to download and produce on a 3D printer via his company, Defense Distributed.
In a statement about the gun, the museum said: "The invention of this so called ‘wiki weapon’ sparked intense debate and upended discussions about the benefits of new manufacturing technologies and the unregulated sharing of designs online."
In May this year the US government forced Wilson to remove the blueprints for the gun from the internet. In the same month, the police commissioner for New South Wales in Australia warned of the dangers posed by printed guns after his force downloaded and test-fired one of the weapons. "Make no mistake, not only are these things undetectable, untraceable, cheap and easy to make, but they will kill," the commissioner said.
The gun is one of five new purchases made thanks to The Design Fund to Benefit the V&A, which was set up in 2011 to allow the museum to acquire contemporary design items. Until now, the purchases have all been pieces of furniture.
The other four items bought this year are vessels from the Botanica series by Formafantasma, The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites, Ear Chairs by Studio Makkink & Bey, and the George chest of drawers by Gareth Neal - see below for full details.