Gun Printing: A Call To Inaction

Once something is published on the Internet, it’s too late to take it back. Ask Anthony Weiner.

Pictured to the left is a 3D printer. As predicted here more than half a year ago, it is now a demonstrated reality that with downloadable plans and instructions, anyone can now print from plastic functionally all of the parts of a functional handgun, utterly free from regulation or supervision. Now that those plans have been published on the internet, if you want them, you can get them. And probably for free no matter what attempts to suppress the information are made by governmental authorities.

So what are we going to do about this?

The day after a dramatic demonstration of the printed single-shot .38 handgun hit the internet, Senator Chuck Schumer called it “stomach-churning” and called for legal controls and limits on the information and technology, a bill introduced by his colleague, Steve Israel, called the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act. Which is fine political theater, but in reality the bill would extend only a few provisions to an already-existing law.

And it would do functionally nothing to prevent someone from using information now available for free to anyone motivated enough to get from using it. This presumably includes the sort of person we can all agree ought not to have access to a firearm — someone mentally deranged, someone already convicted of murdering human beings with weapons. But remember: it’s already illegal for a convicted felon, mental patient, or about nine other kinds of dangerous people to have weapons that don’t show up in metal detectors.

For better or worse, we don’t really have much of a choice. Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed made that choice for us.* If he hadn’t, someone else would have. So now, we are going to have to live with what has happened. Senator Schumer cannot regulate the genie back in the bottle. Congressman Israel cannot legislate the ring back into the bell.

So far, here’s what we have to live with. The plans you can download today are for a single-shot weapon; it shoots once and it’s done. I’m no gunsmith, but it seems like it would be easy to modify the plans for a printed plastic gun to have multiple shots.

The bullet and the firing pin must still have at least some metal parts that cannot be created with the 3-D printer. Something has to spark the gunpowder. But in theory, these parts could be machined by a device also controlled by a home computer from small amounts of steel, which is easy to obtain and might not even need to be of particularly good quality.

And the bullet requires gunpowder. The recipe for many varieties of gunpowder are well-known already and it can be made at home from principal ingredients that can be readily obtained or extracted from a wide variety of common household products and from a set of tools to which anyone has access. The resulting weapon may not be the best gun. But if the machinery, printing, and chemistry is done right, it’ll be good enough to get the job done.

So what?

We already have lots and lots of guns, professionally-designed and professionally-smithed weapons. The United States is awash in them already without any of them being printed out of plastic, activated with home-machined firing pins, and armed with home-brewed gunpowder. Most people who own guns don’t kill other people with them. Even when they get really mad. If I can print a gun at home, chances are very good that I’ll still never use it to kill someone.

And I already own lots of things that I can kill people with even if there isn’t a gun in my house. Cars. Knives. Woodworking tools. Gasoline. Metal poles uses for gardening.† Bottles of wine and booze. If I really wanted to I could use any of these home weapons to kill. Not the best weapons imaginable, but they’d get the job done.

Yes, there is a difference between a gun and a knife; it’s easier to kill with a gun. And yes, household objects that might be used as weapons have other benign utilities. But a person who wants to kill is going to at least try to do it, with whatever weapon might be around. That’s the case even if we stipulate that the person in question is the sort of person we’d really rather didn’t have a weapon in the first place.

So what are we, as a society, going to do about the print-a-gun technology that now exists and is uncontrollably out in the world like a virus escaped from a lab in a science fiction movie? What shall we, as citizens, demand that our government do about this new technology? What can we do, as individuals, to protect ourselves from this insidious and undetectable threat? Given the paralysis about weapons that has gripped our body politic, the demonstrable inability of governmental regulation to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people, and the abilities and extant limitations of law enforcement to respond to people behaving violently, we may look at the advent of this new incremental advance in the proliferation of firearms and ask as Senator Schumer does, whatever will we do?

We will do nothing. Angrily and frustratingly for some, gleefully for others, and with a shrug of the rest of our shoulders, we will do nothing at all.


* Did he break the law when he did it? Doesn’t look like it. As I understand it, the plans released by Defense Distributed do not violate existing law because they include a sufficient amount of metal in an obviously extraneous non-functional metal part within the plans, such that if included, the printed weapon would show up in a standard metal detector or x-ray machine. It would be child’s play for anyone printing the gun to simply omit the non-functional hunk of metal that the plans superficially call for, and produce something with only a single bullet and a firing pin which may well be not enough metal to be detected and which would escape detection in all but the most sensitive sensing devices.

† In law school, my crimes professor brought in a murder weapon from a case she had tried as a prosecutor. The defendant, who had already been convicted of one murder, was awaiting trial on suspicion of a second murder of a fellow prison inmate. The State of California, in its infinite wisdom, decided to rehabilitate this fellow by teaching him metal shop skills while having him make road signs. Everybody wins, right? The shaft of the four-foot-long pole-axe this guy created to kill his third victim (also a fellow inmate) was instantly recognizable as the long steel post with holes drilled through it that street signs are displayed upon, and the business end had been filed down to a sharp point on one side and a rounded sharp blade welded to the other, so it could be used to both stab and slice. How he could have made it without being detected by some sort of supervisor is totally beyond me, but I held the thing with my own hands.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcΓ©. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. What can be done about this within the understood parameters of the Bill of Rights? Nothing. What I fear will ultimately be done about this is that justification will be found to trample on the most important Amendment of all. The First. At this very moment, I suspect that Mike Bloomberg is trying to figure out a way to get the IP addresses of any NYC resident who so much as visits a site where instructions can be downloaded; you can rest assured that the “stop and frisk” NYPD will shortly thereafter be paying a visit to any such person. Bloomberg is surely also envisioning a law that any NY resident responsible for uploading such instructions be deemed guilty of a felony.

    Bloomberg will announce these actions in a speech that includes the phrase “no one believes in the First Amendment more than I do, but….”

    • “But we live in a complex world . . . And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, ha[s] to change.”

    • I suppose I could have dug in to the First Amendment issue raised by Schumer and Israel’s sort-of-proposals to restrict Defense Distributed’s 3-D printer blueprints, and that’s an important point. If they get serious about moving forward with that, then it probably merits a deeper dig.

      • I just want to say, I already have the plans for the Liberator, and have no qualms against putting them out there just to spite petty tyrants who are happily protected by legions of men with guns.

  2. 3-D printing of guns is, well, kinda pointless. It’s really easy to get actual guns — made of much stronger materials, built to higher tolerances, and with far superior capabilities. And you don’t need to shell out 10k+ for a printer and figure all that out.

    I suspect printed guns will be regulated after-the-fact (in the “we’ll count that as a real gun if you’re caught with it in the comission of a crime” — ie, you are considered armed) and mostly ignored.

    Frankly, you’re more likely to hurt yourself with one of those things and by the time 3-D home printers get good enough to make a gun that compares to a manufactered one, well, guns will be the least of the issues facing us with 3D printing technology. (Among other things: I expect 3D printers, once they get good enough to do better fabrication, to start coming DRM’d out the wazoo so you can’t run off copies of someone else’s stuff)

    I suspect a lot of paranoid Americans will look at this, decide a plastic zip gun that’s inaccurate as heck and probably dangerous to fire, will somehow “safeguard liberty” and cheer about freedom and apple pie and death to Democrats — and then go back to their Glocks.

    *shrug*. If the government comes for their guns, I’m pretty sure they’ll take the 3D-printers too. I find the whole kerfluffle — from showcasing to worrying — kinda pointless.

    • This isn’t what Marx meant when he said workers should own the means of production! πŸ˜‰

      But seriously, I agree. Heck, I don’t even need to buy a real gun. I can already kill someone with a nailgun:

      The CDC and OSHA websites have other examples too:

      A carpenter apprentice was killed when he was
      struck in the head by a nail that was fired from a
      powder-actuated tool. The
      tool operator, while
      attempting to anchor a plywood form in
      preparation for pouring a concrete wall, fired the
      gun causing the nail to pass through the hollow
      wall. The nail travelled some twenty-seven feet
      before striking the victim
      . The tool operator had
      never received training in the proper use of the
      tool, and none of the employ
      ees in the area were
      wearing personal protective equipment.

      Is being able to manufacture a (currently) single-shot plastic gun more dangerous somehow (well, it is to the shooter, but you know what I mean) than a nailgun? Like you say, at least for now, 3D printers are still fairly expensive/complicated (though they won’t always be); but I can get a powder-actuated multiple-round nailgun for a couple hundred at most, use it for actual construction, and keep it in my car without breaking any laws (though maybe modifying it to remove safety features is illegal, I am not sure).

    • Yes, the 3-D printed guns are kinda pointless, but that’s likely because the guns and the gun plans themselves aren’t really what Defense Distributed is trying to produce – their objective is provocation. Per the group’s webpage at

      The specific purposes for which this corporation is organized are: To defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and affirmed by the United States Supreme Court, through facilitating global access to, and the collaborative production of, information and knowledge related to the 3D printing of arms; and to publish and distribute, at no cost to the public, such information and knowledge in promotion of the public interest.

      As Mark Thompson notes above, this is much more about the First Amendment than the Second. Senator Schumer and Congressman Israel are giving DefDist exactly what they are angling for – something they can label as oppression.

      • Yes, I am sure that all that stands betwixt freedom and tyranny is a plastic, single-shot gun.

        It will, no doubt, stand up well to the jack-booted, machine-gun toting, body-armor wearing, APC using thugs of the police state. (And that’s just local SWAT).

    • I find 3-d printing enormously fascinating and interesting. We’re already seeing signs that the tech is beginning to shift the paradigm of manufacturing around.

      • It’s dead tech already. πŸ™‚ Bioprogramming is the new future.

        Why muck around with three-d printing when you can hack bacteria to grow things for you? πŸ™‚

        (Seriously, there’s contests and everything. Cool field. πŸ™‚ )

        • Is it to the point it can be done at home? Because if it is, I gotta do some reading!

          • No. I saw MIT was having some contests and the like.

            You can always microbrew. It’s not as fun, but you can drink it after!

          • I got a friend who does that, I’ll just go drink his beer

    • I’ll can print said gun with a home built printer made from about $500 worth of parts.

      If I spend $1K, I can build a printer with the necessary resolution to match modern machine tolerances.

  3. It’s hard for me to understand how people can simultaneously say that government regulation has the power to stifle an industry but that outright government bans are completely powerless. Not that I think the threat of 3D-printed guns can be completely eradicated, but surely a government ban would severely reduce the sophistication and accessibility of such weapons.

    Look at bomb-making, for example, which is quite illegal but can still be done with household materials and freely available information. Is bomb-making any more difficult because it is illegal? How much different would our world be if you could go to a bomb-shop and easily purchase a bomb for self-defense? One that has had millions of dollars in R&D poured into it by a bomb-manufacturer, with sophisticated features and rigorous industrial testing. Where the price has been driven down by competition and innovation. Quite a bit different I imagine. Especially if you think about recent improvised explosive attacks that failed: Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s malfunctioning bomb-vest; the 2010 Times Square bomber’s failed car-bomb. How much different would things have been if US lawmakers had decided that a bomb-making ban “would do functionally nothing to prevent someone from using information now available for free to anyone motivated enough to get from using it” and just threw up their hands?

    It seems pretty clear to me from this example, as well as many left/right economic discussions, that government interference can impede innovation. And in the case of aggressive weapons, less innovation very likely means fewer casualties. I don’t see why this case is categorically different from the kind of cost/benefit analysis we look at with any other regulation.

  4. I actually have to agree with Burt that no good can come of the attempts to regulate, nor will any meaningful action be taken. This is just an oddly fascinating development in the maturation of 3-D printing, a subject I have followed for some time now.

    What does interest me though, is that fact that printing a handgun seem (in the mind of some centerist Democrats) to require a federal ban, but handgun violence in general (albeit part of a declining trend of gun violence in the US) doesn’t. The recent round of attempts at gun control never went near handguns . . .

    • Phillip – I assume 3D printed items are probably a train hobbyist’s dream? I can imagine all of the cool scenery-type stuff you could crank out.

  5. When does a gun become a gun?

    I mean this seriously.

      • So a blow gun? And Randy Johnson’s left arm?

        • I’m not sure a person could be considered a gun (I’m not sure you could say that the Big Unit “fires” a baseball).

          The Pitchomatic 5000 on the other hand…

          • Fair point.

            Really, this is a broader question that I think needs to be answered whenever we look at regulation. Which isn’t to say regulation is bad. But these questions must be answered.

            All of the component parts of most home made bombs are perfectly legal in isolation. But at what point is a law broken? When a certain percentage of them are owned? When they are all in one room together? When they’re all mixed together? After the bomb goes off?

            If we can clearly answer these questions, I think we can better approach how to respond to new situations that seem to blur the lines. I don’t think the “I know it when I see it” mindset is a good one.

          • Some states wisely define a gun by projectile velocities or muzzle energies (Imagine, legislators doing physics correctly!), or some combination of the two.

            You can’t go just by muzzle energy or pumpkin catapults and dump trucks would qualify, and you don’t want to class good BB or pellet guns as rifles or half your kids end up with felony records.

            Basically, the gun doesn’t matter, it’s the bullet it delivers that counts.

          • I trust wiser people than myself to make that determination. I just think it is a determination that ought to be made.

            Because if you have a 3D printer (legal!) and a bunch of plastic (legal!) but together they make a gun, at what point is a law broken and, then, how do we enforce the law?

          • If you could enforce the law to the extent that illegal things couldn’t happen, why not just make murder illegal and stop worrying about it?

            3-D printing doesn’t really add anything to cheap gun technology. All you need for a single-shot gun is a piece of steel pipe, a spring, and a nail (nails are often used as one-shot firing pins). Or you can take a piece of pipe and a pipe-cap from the hardware store, drill a tiny hole in the rear, load it with loose powder and shot, and use a Bic lighter instead of a flint lock. Use hose clamps to hold the barrel to a block of wood that you cut into a workable stock with a jigsaw, and Presto, you have a blunderbuss, one of the deadliest close-range weapons ever devised, and at one time the preferred home-defense gun.

            Every one of us has always had the ability to simply and cheaply make highly-lethal home-made guns like that. Few bother. The only thing 3-D printing has done is get gun-control advocates all freaked out because their fantasies of a perfect system that would eliminate guns from criminal hands is exposed as the fantasy it always was.

            In other news, the entire background check system, even an imagined, theoretical system, depends on a valid driver’s license to be effective. It’s not like anyone has ever faked those.

          • Because if you have a 3D printer (legal!) and a bunch of plastic (legal!) but together they make a gun, at what point is a law broken and, then, how do we enforce the law?

            I think it’s a bit of a straw-man to say that any regulation that is not 100% effective is not worth pursuing. In reality, all we want is regulation that has a measurable effect and an acceptable cost. One option would be to regulate this like home-distilling: Whenever you purchase a 3D-printer you register it with the government, and government inspectors can visit you at any time and make sure you’re not using the printer to make forbidden devices. To make it easier, you can require that 3D-printer manufacturers store a snapshot of every schematic used with the printer in an internal drive. If the inspectors see schematics of forbidden devices, or the internal drive has been tampered with – you’re liable. That regulation alone would probably keep most hobbyists out of the gun-printing game and depress any R&D that goes into printed guns.

          • I took the liberty of correcting your italic tag, Trizzlor.

            Of course just because a law cannot be 100% effective does not mean that we don’t pass it or try to enforce it as best we can. What the 3D printing innovation and legislative harrumphing in response underlines for me, though, is that this sort of thing is very much the dog chasing its tail.

            It’s easy to lose sight of the goal. The goal is not to prevent the dissemination of guns. The goal is to minimize gun violence. Criminalizing guns (and Congressman Israel’s bill is a surprisingly narrow enhancement of existing gun criminalization) isn’t a step well-calculated towards realizing that goal.

          • Thanks Burt.

            I agree that at this point in time the regulation of printed guns is an entirely academic debate. And I’ve long held that the political capital that liberal activists currently spend on gun-control would do a lot more good to reduce gun violence if it was spent instead on poverty-control. Still, if 3D printing gets to the point where one can manufacture an automatic weapon or an explosive device simply based on a few hundred dollars of plastic and schematics from the internet then the kind of regulation I mentioned could very well be a necessary deterrent. And if one sees the likelihood of this kind of future to be high, then regulating the devices pre-emptively is a way to nip it in the bud or at least delay it.

          • How long before these mechanisms are used for things other than guns, though? Like patent enforcement.

          • “You may not print that item, the patent for items shaped like that is owned by the estate of John Holmes.”

          • How long before these mechanisms are used for things other than guns, though? Like patent enforcement.

            Maybe this is a cop-out answer, but I’m just not very bothered by the slippery slope argument without clear evidence that there at least exists a slope. To take the other examples I’ve brought up: We’ve been regulating home-distilling without letting that regulatory power expand into non-alcoholic distilled beverages. We’ve been regulating home bomb-making without letting that regulatory power expand into other types of machining.

            Any legal mechanism can breed harmful outcomes. But when there’s no clear evidence that those outcomes are inevitable, then a democratic process by which the law can be modified if they arise is sufficient for me.

          • “I think it’s a bit of a straw-man to say that any regulation that is not 100% effective is not worth pursuing.”


            I apologize if it seemed that was the argument I was making. I am not opposed to regulation in general (well, I might be, in a way, but not the way it seems you have interpreted me). My point is only that, if we are going to regulate things, we ought to clearly define what it is we are actually seeking to regulate.

            We regulate hand guns, but not water guns, though both are technically “guns”. So it is not enough to say that something is a “gun” in order to have it regulated as such. There must be certain criteria, which ought to be specifically and explicitly described. Having done that, we can more effectively regulate and, when necessary, make meaningful shifts to those criteria.

            What I object to is the whole “I know it when I see it” approach to regulation. Boo-hiss that.

          • Trizzlor, to follow your idea for regulating 3-D printers, we might as well repeal the 4th Amendment, under which a search requires a warrant based on probable cause. So you bought a 3-D printer, and because you did, you surrender your rights and must allow the police to randomly and routinely raid your house looking for evidence of a potential crime.

            Shouldn’t the same logic apply to anyone who buys potting soil, plant food, plastic pots, electric lights, or fans? After all, they might be growing marijuana, or even poppy or coca! What about allow the federal government raid the homes of anyone who’s bought cotton sheets, towels, or shirts, which can be easily converted into explosives with just air and electricity, or people who have electrical hookups from the power company, since just electricity and air can be converted into RDX and HMX? Why not allow the government to raid the home of anyone who buys condoms, since they might have a basement full of kidnapped sex slaves?

            That’s not the slippery slope, that’s the cliff.

          • Trizzlor, I understand skepticism of the slippery slope. But I think that you are seriously, seriously underestimating the IP threat that these things represent. It’s like Napster, but for actual stuff. With or without your proposal, I think there is going to be a serious push. I see your proposal as the perfect opportunity for them to implement it.

        • I’m sure John Kruk would agree about the Big Eunuch.

    • Some people would say this it becomes a gun when the gunsmith first conceives of making it, but legally, it’s given its full Second Amendment rights when it’s between one-third and two-thirds complete.

  6. Practically speaking, I’m curious what the overlap will be between [people who have access to 3D printers] and [people who should be prohibited from having guns].

    I know that doesn’t really answer the question, but it could indicate how pressing a question it is.

    • It depends on who you think shouldn’t have guns. If you think practically nobody than a lot of people who shouldn’t have guns are going to have 3D printers.

      • Sorry, I meant specifically the classes of people we generally agree shouldn’t (the mentally ill, the violent criminals, etc.).

        • Point of clarification – Felons are prevented from owning guns. Violent criminals are a subset of felons (i.e. non-violent felons are also prohibited – which is a potential injustice in my mind)

          • I’m curious… Do we let blind people own guns? Should we?

          • Michigan has a law allowing blind people to hunt.

            Texas is working on one.

            I imagine they have assistants.

          • I think that is slightly different though. The presence of an assistant can mitigate much, if not all, of the risk (or at least the unique risk that a blind person contributes to the mix… hunting will never be zero risk for anyone).

            But ownership/possession is another animal. If the individual doesn’t have that assistant with him/her at all times, there is indeed an added risk factor.

            To perhaps refine the question a bit, should a blind man who lives alone be allowed to keep a loaded handgun* in the drawer of his bedside table?

            And I should make clear I’m not necessarily arguing that he shouldn’t… I’m trying to think through all the different angles here.

            * Provided this is actually legal where he lives. I have no idea what the laws are in terms of gun storage in homes.

          • AFAIK, we let blind people own cars. They can’t get a drivers license, but there is no law against them owning a car.

          • Ya know, at some point, you have to just trust that five nine’s of the population will do the right thing, so that blind people who own cars, or guns, will act responsibly with them & not use them in a fashion that will endanger others.

            Of course, with 300M people in America, that .0001% is still about 30K people who will be stupid & make the news, but no system is perfect.

          • And an even smaller number of blind people.

            Your mention of cars is interesting. Anyone can own a car (I think). But to operate it, you need a license (though I think you might need a license to get it registered but that might very by state). But with guns, you need a license to own the gun in the first place.

            I’d probably be okay with blind people owning guns.

            I thought of it because Burt mentioned there being nine others groups for whom it was already illegal to own guns. But I couldn’t think of nine groups. And then I thought of blind people and wondered if they were one of them.

          • We have special blind hunting privileges in Kentucky and it’s never been a problem. The thing to be aware of is that it’s for legally blind people, which just means “really bad eyesight” such that they perhaps can’t drive a car.

            Then we have hunters with 20/20 vision who will bag an elk, drag it to their truck, drive it into town, and show it off thinking it’s a really, really big deer, and then suffer fines and embarrassing humiliation.

          • Technically, needing a license to own a gun depends on where you live. Federally you need permission to buy a gun from a licensed dealers, and some states require checks for private party transfers, so I guess you could call that a license.

            Here is a list of prohibited persons:


            Fun fact – Depending on how one interprets item 4 on the list (–who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance), our president could be prohibited from owning a firearm. My understanding is that the designation of an “unlawful user” is not necessarily present tense & in reality has no time limit by which one is no longer considered an unlawful user – i.e. if you smoked pot in college, you are technically an unlawful user, even if you haven’t touched the stuff in 30 years.

            IANAL, so I would leave it to the legal minds here as to whether or not that would fly in front of a judge, but the executive branch has been known to make life miserable for people with such loose definitions.

          • Heh… I was actually just thinking about that. If I smoked weed yesterday but currently have none in my possession nor any paraphanalia, could I still be arrested and prosecuted for anything?

          • Arrested – I don’t believe so. However, on the Form 4473, you are required to answer truthfully if you are a user of illegal drugs. If you say no, and you have used in the past, one could make the argument that you are a prohibited person, and you have just perjured yourself & committed a felony.

            Like I said, not sure how far that would get with a judge, but your life would suck for a while if a prosecutor decided to run with it.

  7. Do we ban lathes and milling machines also? After all these machines with files can be used to build guns
    the old fashioned way. Yes indeed a modern set of CNC controlled machines could make most parts of a gun without needing the detailed skill an old fashioned machine. After all the machines listed were developed and perfected to make guns in the 19th century. I suspect further that there are books out there
    that tell you how to build a gun. Do we ban them?

    • Inexpensive home-built single-shot guns — that all have a fair chance of blowing up in your hand — aren’t new; they simply fell out of favor because, as you point out, it has become so easy to get a real gun. Any design for a working printable single-shot plastic gun can no doubt be modified to be easy to mill out of a solid block of similar plastic, I suspect using nothing more complicated than a band saw and a drill press. People (illegally) build fully-automatic Sten machine guns in their garages using tools you can buy at Harbor Freight. Plans are readily available.

      The only thing you can say about printing is that you don’t need even rudimentary machining skills to build the parts.

    • There are better than that. You can buy plans and jigs to make an AR-15 style weapon out of billet stock many places on the net. There are free plans and mail-rounds for the jigs if you’re doing it on the cheap. Some makerspaces are talking about disallowing that machining work in their shops, but you can find a mill and lathe lots of places. Legally, there’s only one piece of a weapon that needs to be regulated if you’re going to transfer it to someone else. If you’re making it for yourself, that number falls to zero (as I understand current law)

  8. Probably the biggest consequence of this is that plastic toys colored so that they aren’t mistaken for real guns will now be mistaken for real guns by somebody. It will be a one-off tragedy, but that makes it no less tragic.

    Nobody is going to buy a $10k printer for the sole purpose of printing a single-shot gun, and the plastic (at this stage) probably won’t stand up to multiple shots before the thing blows up in your hands.

    • “It will be a one-off tragedy, but that makes it no less tragic.”

      I’m not so sure about the one-off part. Haven’t many people been killed due to a mistaken belief that a toy gun is a real gun?

      • I think he meant “one-off” in that it’ll always be considered a “fluke circumstance” and only a tragedy to whomever died.

        You know, not a systemic problem just…one that keeps happening. Not often. Just…enough.

        • What Morat said.

          It’s significantly rare now, as it is. You could double the incidence and the amount of actual blip it would register on your radar wouldn’t be much.

          Except for the people involved.

  9. For now, everyone can go back to their nap.

    When a fully functioning, 100% metal free plastic weapon that can fire a few hundred or a thousand rounds is designed, that’ll will be your key to PANIC.

    I doubt you can get a dozen rounds thought this thing and any version of it in a semi auto is going to be detectable because of the springs and this thing is still detectable via xrays etc. so I’m not alarmed at all.

    • No, when you can run off grey goo on your home printer? Then panic.

      • Thankfully all the grey goo they currently can conceptualize would be destroyed by ambient radiation.. but God(ess) help me if they ever invent the real stuff. I mean what an awful way to go.

        • I’m a programmer. Speaking for my people: We’d leave an infinite loop in there somewhere. πŸ™‚

          Nanotechnology is a pretty crazy and growing field. It’s not grey goo and universal assemblers, but it’s kicking along nicely in materials science and micro-scale stuff.

          Those fabrics that stains just…slide off…are pretty cool, but I bet they breathe like crap. Great for an apron, not so good for pants.

  10. I’ve always preferred the idea of using electrochemical milling (ECM) to drive a spent bullet (which thus already has rifling grooves) through a steel shaft to make a barrel. All you need is a pump, water, lots of salt, a DC power supply (5 to 12 volts), and a motor driver circuit that advances a lead screw to maintain constant current across the electrode, between the bullet and the barrel. The method might have less bit drift in a long hole (the drift of a drilled hole goes up with the cube of the depth to width ratio, so rifles are very hard to drill accurately, and usually they just straighten the barrel after drilling the hole, using a very large optical barrel straightening machine made by Pratt & Whitney).

    The barrel could already be hardened steel, or even titanium, because ECM removal rates aren’t affected by the hardness of the workpiece, so subsequent heat treating wouldn’t be required. The tool (I suggest a spent bullet) is usually copper, which unlike a silicon carbide rifling button or drill tip, is easy to work with. The bullet could be dropped into circuit board etching solution (ferric chloride) and measured with a micrometer until the bullet diameter has decreased by the amount of gap the particular ECM voltage is going to produce (higher DC voltage gives a larger gap. 0.002 to 0.006 inches are easily obtained) .

    Although ECM also leaves a much better surface finish than conventional drilling or machining, and is more accurate, the downside is that it’s not as efficient as conventional milling (about 2% as much material removed per Watt), and it’s rather slow. I drilled a few holes with the process using common hardware store materials, and it’s probably a workable method for the home gunsmith, though it probably wouldn’t be efficient enough to economically compete with the large, specialized machine tools of major manufacturers.

    About the only real use I see for a 3-D plastic printer is grips, some parts of a frame, and other non-critical, low-stress, low-temperature parts. If you were going to make a plastic gun, for some crazy reason, just mold the parts like everything else we make out of plastic.

    Building your own guns is perfectly legal and you don’t need to register until gun production becomes a significant source of your income. Attempts to ban personal gun making would certainly run afoul of the Constitution because in the Founding Father’s time, almost all guns were made by unlicensed, unregulated blacksmiths and farmers. The Federal arsenals at Springfield Massachusetts and Harpers Ferry used part-time farmers to build all our military rifles.

    Instead of trying to ban the practice, Congress should pass a law mandating that all killers switched to cheap, single-shot, low-powered, homemade plastic guns. But they’d probably ignore that like they ignore every other law.

  11. 3d printed guns are the preferred firearms for people who don’t like having whole arms.

  12. I recognize this is sort of tangential to your point, but there is a technical issue, here.

    And the bullet requires gunpowder. The recipe for many varieties of gunpowder are well-known already and it can be made at home from principal ingredients that can be readily obtained or extracted from a wide variety of common household products and from a set of tools to which anyone has access.

    Are we talking about flintlocks? Because to make a modern round, you also need a primer. Primers are not made from gunpowder. By their very nature, they must be sensitive explosives. In theory, someone with nerves of steel could make mercury fulminate or another priming compound in their basement from commercial available chemical supplies (probably not common household products). But it’s not something I’d recommend as lifespan enhancing (and I can pretty much guarantee that anyone who can make primers can make bombs).

    • This is a good point, Fnord, thanks.

      I suspect, though, that if we’re going totally home-grown with a weapon, ordinary black powder would suffice. Even if we’re talking about a muzzle-loading musket with an unrifled barrel, a wad of black powder, and handmade lead ball shot, it turns out that those can kill people.

  13. I scanned the comments here quickly and I’m surprised that no one mentions gang violence. 3D printed guns are perfect for retribution-type crime that is common in gang areas. Are they still in the early stages of development and potentially dangerous? Absolutely…but that won’t always be the case. I can imagine how easy it would be to walk up to someone, shoot them and then destroy the gun and all the evidence.

    With that said, 3D printers are going to be a hige part of our future. A lot of people speculate that they will be as common in households as any other appliance within 20 years or less. You will purchase the raw materials and then pay a fee for the blueprints and there you go. We’re already seeing companies acknowledge the low cost of manufacturing in certain goods. For example, Toshiba used to have their laptops sent to Louisville for repairs. They realized recently that it is cheaper to just build a new one for the customer. So what you are paying for is not the manufacturing but for the design. That business model translates well to 3D printers.

    • I’m not going to google this unless pressured to do so but a cheap handgun costs… $100? $200?

      How much does the cheapest 3-d printer cost? How much does the cheapest 3-d print *CARTRIDGE* cost?

      • Here’s what I am thinking: Dude buys one of these and sets up shop somewhere. Starts cranking out guns for gang bangers. I don’t expect them to actually be doing it themselves (although as the price scales down, who knows?)

      • Right now, it’s not economically efficient to print a gun that you use once and melt back down into a spatula or something later. But it’s clear enough that the day when a remeltable printed zipgun is cheaper than a reusable machined metal gun is coming.

        • When they can print a 4-6 shot gun using caseless ammo, or ammo with plastic cases (which already exists, by the way), then one guy with a printer will be the street gangs best friend. For short ranges, they don’t even need to buy bullets – ball bearings will work, or metal rod with one end tapered. Give them a battery & something like a Solar Igniter, and you won’t even need primers, just powder.

    • I said the same thing in a post I sent to Todd, but this went up before he got around to posting it.

      Oh well.

  14. FYI The State Department has taken an interesting action:

    Printable gun violates ITAR

    A bit of closing the barn door long after the horses are out, & honestly it will probably not hold up for too long, but still.

  15. So let me see if I understand this. The same government that lost a advanced drone to Iran, with some of the highest tech hardware available. Is telling one of our citizens they have to be responsible if a primitive plastic printed single shot gun ends up in the wrong hands?

    I suppose all this will do is further push development underground and make the creative guys a little more creative and quiet. I suppose today there is 100,000 more.

    • Yes, and this is the same gov’t that says that classified data released via wikileaks is STILL classified even though it’s been publicly released. Only the organization that originally classified the documents can declassify them.

      So folks who have access to classifed documents through they employment, who view the wikileak data, can get into trouble for looking at that classified data because they were not authorized to look at it-even though it’s in the public domain. And looking at classifed data that you’re not authorized to look at, jeapordizes your clearance, and your employment, and maybe more.

      Fun huh?

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