3D-Printed Guns: Still Real, Still Not Perfect, Still Unstoppable

Our paper of record, the New York Times, sums it up: lots of people want to make plastic (at least partly) weapons using 3D printers, for all the same reasons anyone wants to be able to be self-sufficient and do cool new things, some people want to stop them, for all the same reasons of fear of new technologies and making things already possible a bit easier, but won't be able to.

Excerpts:

“We now have 3-D printers that can manufacture firearms components in the basement,” said Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York. “It’s just a matter of time before a 3-D printer will produce a weapon capable of firing bullets.”....

....To effectively outlaw weapons made with them, Mr. Israel wants to extend an existing law, set to expire this year, that makes weapons that are undetectable by security scanners — like a printed all-plastic gun — illegal.

But there are also major technical obstacles to creating an entire gun on a 3-D printer, not the least of which is that a plastic gun would probably melt or explode upon firing a single bullet, making it about as likely to kill the gunman as the target.

In the meantime, Michael Guslick in Milwaukee, Chapman Baetzel in Dover, N.H., and Cody Wilson in Austin, Tex., did something much simpler and, for now, more effective. They printed the part of an AR-15 assault rifle called the lower receiver, the central piece that other parts are attached to. Then, using standard metal components, including the chamber and barrel — the parts that must be strong enough to withstand the intense pressure of a bullet firing — they assembled working guns.

In all, the three men, who have written about their efforts on the Web, have fired hundreds of rounds, although the plastic receivers eventually deform, crack or otherwise fail from heat and shock....

A lower receiver is the only part of an AR-15 that, when bought, requires the filing of federal paperwork. But it is legal to make an AR-15 — and many other guns — for personal use as long as there is no intent to sell them. And if the lower receiver is homemade, no paperwork is required.....

Different people are making these guns for different reasons:

Mr. Guslick, who works in information technology and describes himself as a hobbyist gunsmith, printed his receiver on a machine he bought online through Craigslist. He used a file and abrasive paper to make the piece fit properly, but over all the project was not much of a technical challenge. “Anybody could do this,” he said.

Mr. Baetzel, who made his receiver on a 3-D printer he built from a kit, said the part worked fine until he cracked it when bumping the gun while putting it in his car. He has since printed a replacement along with a modified grip and stock which, he said, has made the gun sturdier.....

Only Mr. Wilson, a law student whoprints his receivers on friends’ machines, had overtly political motives, wanting to demonstrate what he called the absurdity of gun-control laws. He took his efforts even further, printing high-capacity magazines like those that would be banned under recommendations proposed by President Obama and successfully testing them this month on a firing range south of Austin....

Mr. Wilson also has a project to develop a fully printable one-shot weapon, although he has not made much progress. 

The article goes on to point out that old-fashioned metal machine shop tools are still likely to make you a better gun than a 3D printer will. The NRA did not comment to the Times on 3D weapons, and the usual suspects in the world of gun regulation are still scared of this technology. Look, guns are already out there and most anti-weapon regulations were feckless about actually stopping people (especially the criminally minded) from owning weapons anyway. The 3D printer is far more of an advance in People Power than it is an advance in Gun Criminal Power.

My Reason article from December about the 3D weapons brouhaha and Rep. Israel's anguish, with much interesting new stuff from WikiWeapons spokesman Cody Wilson.

Lots more Reason on 3D weapons.

A Reason TV interview with 3D printing mogul Peter Weijmarshausen:

 

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  • Tim||

    I think we'll end up (as others have mentioned) with some sort of V-chip in these machines or maybe they will store lists of what they print and be forced to report the lists regularly to some government agency.

  • Hyperion||

    And it will be defeated just as quickly as they implement it.

    We already have far too many laws, and they are cranking out new ones by the minute.

    We are very close to living in a society in which everyone is a criminal, except for elected officials of course, the laws don't apply to them.

  • sarcasmic||

    We are very close to living in a society in which everyone is a criminal, except for elected officials of course, the laws don't apply to them.

    Rule of Man, bitches!

  • Almanian.||

    Rule of TOP men. TOP. Men.

  • Tim||

    The Chuck Schumer effect.

  • SweatingGin||

    I think it's too late for that. From what I've looked at, 3D printers are really simple -- the only part that is complicated is the extruder, and people can even make their own -- it's a nozzle with a heating element.

    The rest of the parts are just stepping motors, and a simple controller. Software does the rest.

    All of these things are out there, so you can just printer your own printer. I suppose it would be interesting if they tried to force it, but seems like it would be a big underground industry then.

  • Brett L||

    Ooh. My Printrbot is almost assembled. After the traditional shot glass, I'm totally printing a lower receiver. Just because I can.

  • ||

    We're gonna need some pictures, dude. Open a flicker account.

  • Brett L||

    Will do. Also, there's a gun show this weekend. May have to see if they have discount "accessory kits" available with everything else. Although having a gun go 'splodey in my hand is not high on my list.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    In all, the three men, who have written about their efforts on the Web...

    It's like they're taunting legislators to do what they can to dick with the future of 3D printing as much as possible.

  • Hyperion||

    not the least of which is that a plastic gun would probably melt or explode upon firing a single bullet

    This isn't going to matter for much longer. Google nano-assemblers. This will allow for new materials(non-metal, but just as effective, or more so, for making a working gun).

  • Virginian||

    I'll believe it when I see it. The kind of long term reliability and performance I demand from my weapons means steel. Sure if there was some polymer that could outperform it I'd be all for it, but there isn't one right now.

    3D printing a lower or a magazine or even a stock or rail system is one thing. Printing a working upper for an AR is a much more complex task.

  • Hyperion||

    I'll believe it when I see it

    This has been said so many times before, by so many people, about so many things, and like all of them, you are wrong too. You will see it.

  • Virginian||

    Being a pessimist means all the times I'm wrong I'm too happy playing with new toys to be worried about being wrong.

    I mean steel has been what weapons have been made off for nearly two thousand years now. It's gotta change sometime, and I'm sure it will. I just think we have a long way to go before 3d printers replace a good gunsmith.

  • Hyperion||

    I bet you would have never convinced any native American, or European settler, back in 1670, that you could make a canoe out of plastic that would be 10x lighter and stronger than their wooden canoe, either. Mostly because plastic didn't exist.

    Same deal here, just a much shorter time frame that we are dealing with.

  • Virginian||

    It's not that I'm unconvinced. We've got 4 billion years before the Sun swallows the Earth. I'm sure at some point in that span my blue steel beauties will be as quaint as those obsidian and oak swords the Aztecs used to use.

    I just don't think it will be in the next, say, ten years or so.

  • robc||

    2018.

    And I wont be surprised if its well before that.

  • Hyperion||

    I would be willing to go out on a limb here, and say that there will be a working gun, made with no steel, within 5 years from now. In 10 years, we won't even be talking about if it can be done or not.

  • Virginian||

    I don't know.

    OK I just field stripped my Glock. Yes the frame is polymer and yeah it's very strong. But the barrel, the breech, the guide rails, the slide, all the little parts that I should be able to name but can't, the recoil spring. All of that is steel.

    I just think we're more than 10 years away from replacing all those parts with something else, be it ceramics or polymer or what have you.

  • sarcasmic||

    I think that those parts may be replaceable with something that is non-metal in the relatively near future.

    Will it be as durable as metal? I doubt it.
    Will it function? Yeah. For a little while.

  • Zeb||

    There are some things that people imagined in the past that have never come to be. I think we just remember the ones that actually happen better.

  • sarcasmic||

    The practical electric car has been just over the horizon for a hundred years.

  • Dallas H.||

    And currently available at your local Tesla dealership.

  • Brett L||

    Check the copyright on The Engines of Creation sometime. I'm a huge fan, but don't expect to see this get to The Diamond Age IRL anymore than I expect Ray Kurzweil's AI predictions to give us the technological singularity.

  • Hyperion||

    There is a blog post somewhere, I can't find it now, where Michio Kaku talks about a guy he knows that already has an elementary type of nano-assembler going and has actually already created materials that have never been seen before.

  • Brett L||

    Yes. And AI basically does all the major stock trading and will find you the closest restaurant on your smartphone. Scale is important. People are definitely doing interesting things with them. Whether such things will be more broadly applicable (and how they will be distributed) is important.

  • Randian||

    Awww, who said bullet??! Who the fuck said bullet??!

    #assholepedant

  • ||

    To be pedantic, there's absolutely nothing wrong with saying that a gun fired a bullet. PEDANTIC.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, should have waited until someone said "cartridge" when they meant "bullet".

  • Slammer||

    That youtube MAGAZINE has been edited all to hell

  • Randian||

    not the least of which is that a plastic gun would probably melt or explode upon firing a single bullet

    What, does the BULLET melt or explode the gun now? NO. See, you ignorant ass!

  • ||

    A weapon fires a projectile. A bullet is a projectile. Thus, a weapon fires a bullet. PEDANTIC.

  • Randian||

    NO NO NO

    The firing pin strikes the primer and the propellant gas pushes the bullet out of the bore!

    SO THEREFORE IT IS THE GAS THAT WOULD BLOW UP THE GUN I MEAN WEAPON

  • ||

    Of course it would. And all, that of course, is a result of firing the projectile. THE BULLET. PEDANTIC.

  • Randian||

    ha ha. Fair enough.

  • ||

    But wouldn't it potentially melt even if firing a blank? Not bullet.

    Of course, the friction between the bullet and barrel could also cause the barrel material to degrade to a point where it exploded. Bullet.

  • Tim||

    Just wait till the first kid gets caught printing out a set of rubber boobs.

  • Hyperion||

    Just wait until the next kid, who saw what he did with boobs, prints out the first fully automated fem-bot. The congress critters will forget all about guns and jump to the whip of their feminist masters to stop this new 'war on women'

  • wingnutx||

    There's already a printable IUD on Shapeways.

    Let's drag birth control into it.

  • nicole||

    Weird...that would be awesome if you could actually use it.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Reagan already banned plastic guns.

    That gun-grabber!

  • Jordan||

    Libertarians totally cheered him on for that! Derp.

  • Slammer||

    I would be watching this Cspan hearing on gun violence right now, but I just ate breakfast and I don't want to barf on my flatscreen

  • The Late P Brooks||

    To effectively outlaw weapons made with them, Mr. Israel wants to extend an existing law, set to expire this year, that makes weapons that are undetectable by security scanners — like a printed all-plastic gun — illegal.

    "People are always doing stuff I disapprove of!"

    Nobody runs for office so they can leave me (or you) the fuck alone.

  • Almanian.||

    OT Pretty sure my anti gun friends really appreciate when I buy them a two year NRA membership with their name on it. I know it gives me great joy.

    As you were.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Given the spectrum of weapons one can construct with common household items, the 3D printer focus is kind of stupid.

    But then again it isn't, for it is not the wingnuts but the lefties that have the perverse gun-fetish. Not weapons or death or anything, but guns alone. The socialists are in awe of the stupid fucking things.

  • db||

    It's just an extension of hoplophobia. I fully expect an attempt at lincensure and registration of 3D printers. "Only licensed, responsible commercial manufacturers should have access to this technology tat has the potential for such terrible misuses."

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Google nano-assemblers. This will allow for new materials(non-metal, but just as effective, or more so, for making a working gun).

    There are undoubtedly a lot of materials out there I know nothing about, but don't you need long strands for strength in non-metallic materials? Can a printer technology manage that?

    Or are these assemblers not a printer based technology?

  • Brett L||

    but don't you need long strands for strength in non-metallic materials

    Actually you need cross-linking in the polymers. The problem, like with metals, is that the stronger the material, the more brittle it becomes. Think unvulcanized versus vulcanized rubber. We like iron/steel because it is (relatively) flexible at high strength. Getting the same properties from plastics is tough.

  • Hyperion||

    No, google nano-assembers and read up on it.

  • db||

    The focus on 3D printers is silly, because small CNC mills and lathes can be used to produce much more durable items and they don't cost as much as 3D printers, IIRC.

  • Randian||

    I don't think CNC milling is as accessible as a desktop printer.

  • db||

  • Brett L||

    I was going to argue with you, but they appear to be comparable. I guess the difference is the $600 model 3D printer can handle the lower receiver, and I'm unsure about the $600 CNC mill's ability to carve a block of steel for the lower.

  • db||

    It absolutely can, but why steel? AR lowers are aluminum alloy?

  • Brett L||

    I guess I was thinking that the cheap ones are only 3 axes and you actually need to be able to angle the head to make some of those parts. The good ones are 4 and 5 axes. And aluminum would be easier to mill.

  • db||

    It's still quite easy even with only a 3-axis machine. Even without CNC mods, a mini-mill equipped with a good digital readout for precise, easy measurement can make short work of most medium sized parts in aluminum alloy.

    I started in this hobby a few years ago with only a few weeks of high school shop class many years ago for experien e and I picked up the techniques for good milling and lathe operation rather quickly.

  • Zeb||

    You don't need a huge mill. It might take a bit longer, but you can mill pretty much anything that fits on a pretty small mill.

  • Zeb||

    Where can you get a CNC machine for $600? Are you sure it is not a manual machine? I would be surprised to see a CNC machine for less than a few grand.

  • db||

    A base mini mill will run you $600-$700. The kits for CNC conversion will put you up around $2k in total IIRC. If you go bigger on the mill you'll pay more.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Why is it that there is no mention of the 3D printers that ARE ACTUALLY USED, and have been for years, in making metal firearms. They are called CNC machines. This article is out of order, THIS WHOLE THREAD IS OUT OF ORDER!!!

    Also, the real power of 3D printers for high durability items is casting molds...no longer do you need a skilled artist to make the positive you can just print it then make your casting mold. Awesome.

  • db||

    You are correct, sir!

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Reason nobody mentioned CNC machines is because nobody put out a press-release about making a gun or magazine or whatever. Hence, lefties - who I have to admit seem a group lacking peeps who do anything with their hands - probably are not aware of CNC machines.

    Or tool and dye sets, or what "stamping" or "extruding" and all these other high-carbon footprint activities actually are. Lefties would be shocked to know that whole villages in Pakistan do nothing other than crank out knock-off AK's - made by people with 3rd-grade educations but know how to work things with their hands.

    The ignorance of this subject lefty elitists display runs far deeper than their politics about the subject. Perhaps one feeds the other, though I don't know which way that mental street runs.

  • R C Dean||

    lefties - who I have to admit seem a group lacking peeps who do anything with their hands - probably are not aware of CNC machines.

    Well, they are now! Thanks. Thanks a lot.

  • Dallas H.||

    Agreed.

    Find the video tour of Pakistan's gun village and see barefoot peasants people turning out thousands of gun in mud huts that wouldn't seem modern enough to make a falafel.

  • wingnutx||

    CNC hell, anyone with a drill press, some files, and enough patience can make a working submachinegun.

    I've seen working AR lowers made from sheet metal, wood, plastic, and even cutting boards glued together.

    AK receivers are just bent pieces of sheetmetal. People chip in on a bending block and have bending parties to crank them out. If a guy can make one out of an old shovel then it's silly to get worked up over 3D printing.

    Maybe it's a good thing that politicians and concerned citizens have no idea how many DIY guns are already being made.

  • db||

    This is why the ATF ruled that barrels may no longer be imported with parts kits. That's the most difficult part to make. In WWII the Polish Resistance had plenty of assets to make and assemble submachinegun parts, but they relied on Sten barrels airdropped or otherwise smuggled in. Without the barrels, the receivers and other parts were useless.

  • wingnutx||

    Smoothbore is easy enough. Make a 12 gauge SMG.

    I've seen one rifled barrel made from rebar, but obviously that guy was a real machinist.

  • ||

    Can you print CLIPS too?

  • ||

    The MAGAZINE bodies and followers would be trivial. The springs would be annoying, I imagine.

  • Randian||

    The argument on the last thread has convinced me that I am going to have to persuade my wife that an M1 is in the budget.

  • ||

    The CMP, dude. Get them while they last. Pick up a 1903 Springfield too.

  • Randian||

    I saw that they have field-grade ones for a little over $500? That seems like a steal.

    I also saw an Enfield Ishapore 2A on consignment, but I have no idea if I can get NATO cartridges for it.

  • ||

    My field-grade ones have stocks that are little rough and some minor pitting, but they work just fine. One of these days I'll refinish the stocks and maybe get them reblued.

  • wingnutx||

    CNN has a segment today with Robin Meade showing how people legally machine their own 80% lowers at home.

    Calls to ban aluminum in 3, 2, 1...

  • wingnutx||

    Oops, HLN not CNN.

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