ATF Tests 3D-Printed Guns, Finds They Go "Bang"

3D-printed Liberator handgunATFPerhaps a little late to the game, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has joined its counterparts in Austria, Germany, and elsewhere in purchasing 3D printers to see what this fuss about what Reason's Brian Doherty calls "the unstoppable plastic gun" is about. Like everybody else, the folks at the all-you-need-is-a band-and-it's-a-party agency discovered that 3D-printed guns do, in fact, go bang, though whether they do so in the intended way depends on the material you use to build them.

The ATF chose the Liberator, the first successfully fired model, to test. Innovators have since moved on to rifles, pepperboxes, semiautomatics, and even a Model 1911 printed from stainless steel.

Videos posted online on the ATF's YouTube channel (yes, really) show a Liberator built from ABS plastic firing without drama, while a model printed in translucent VisiJet shatters in spectacular fashion. (Pro tip: Don't use VisiJet when printing your own gun.)

A helpful fact sheet posted online promises that "ATF makes every effort to keep abreast of novel firearms technology and firearms trafficking schemes." It also outlines the strict regulations governing firearms manufacture and sale and vows that "ATF investigates any cases in which technological advances allow individuals to avoid complying with these laws."

Of course, the whole advantage of 3D printing technology, and other innovations that enable DIY manufacture of restricted and forbidden objects, is that they render the law largely unenforceable, since the activity takes place away from officious eyes. You can put any statute you want on the books, but there's not much you can do to regulate what goes on in home workshops.

Which is why the Department of Homeland Security has pronounced 3D-printed guns "impossible" to control.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You can put any statute you want on the books, but there's not much you can do to regulate what goes on in home workshops.

    But prosecutors can spend countless tax dollars going after people they find manufacturing these invisible death makers.

  • Jquip||

    Oh good, first goosestep on the march to outlaw tooling.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Gee, I wish I had some bullshit justification to spend heaps of taxdollars on a 3D printer. No gun though to force taxpayers to fork over their cashamazul. Chicken and the Egg.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    When can we dissolve the ATF? Is there another federal agency that is more despicable and corrupt?

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Besides shooting survivalists' spouses, what purpose does the ATF actually serve?

  • Rich||

    Making the FDA look respectable?

  • Redmanfms||

    Besides shooting survivalists' spouses, what purpose does the ATF actually serve?

    That was the FBI.

  • Restoras||

    The ATF along with the IRS and the NSA are at the top of the list for dissolution, or at a minimum severe curtailment of thier scope of action.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Oh, so President Restoras thinks he can rein those organizations in, does he? Your administration would fall into line just like the rest of them.

  • pan fried wylie||

    in what position is the FCC on that list? and Dept. Ed?

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    DEA.

    And the economic ones, SEC, FTC, STB, etc.

  • William of Purple||

    ATF should be a store, not a government department.
    amirite?

  • UnCivilServant||

    I also wanted an ATF investment fund. Especially after reading about the 'pax fund' which avoided ATF investments. I'm going to invest in what people want to buy, not what makes some invertibrate feel good.

  • T||

    Too bad for the ATF that the status of home-made firearms is settled black-letter law. Making your own gun is unquestionably legal, so I don't see how they've got much room to argue against anything here.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    I assume that there's an exception for full-auto stuff. The 3d printing of those will cause a major freakout.

  • T||

    Full-auto is murkier. There's one court decision that holds there is no exception for full auto so it's legal, but off the top of my head, I can't recall what it is. Ryerson, maybe? I know it's a 5th Circuit decision, though. The ATF doctrine of constructive posession would seem to argue it's not, but I don't know how much law backs up the ATF on that one.

    I would be not inclined to share any experiments with making full-auto with anyone were I going to do that, though.

  • DJK||

    They got Cory Wilson, the dude who invented the Liberator, on anti-trafficking statutes.The exportation of weapons technology is a federal crime. And the interpretation is that posting a design on the Web, which could be seen by foreigners, is a violation of that law.

  • DJK||

    Point being...there are so many laws (Justice Department can't even count them) that they'll find something that can be applied.

  • Floridian||

    Warning! Conspiracy theory:
    I think the ATF wanted to make a "home made gun" that failed explosively so as to discourage interest in 3-d printed firearms. That way the technology stays too expensive for inner city street youths to purchase thus preventing them from making cheap guns to assassinate our noble defenders in blue.

    *adjust tinfoil hat*

  • UnCivilServant||

    You can arm a whole mob with cheap street guns for the cost of one printer.

    This tech isn't the sort of thing that the street thugs are interested in, since they readily ignore the laws anyway.

    They have no real interest in fighting the police. The cops are among their customers and suppliers (and sometime compeditors in the market).

    One last thing, tinfoil hats improve reception for radio wave implants.

  • Floridian||

    You can arm a whole mob with cheap street guns for the cost of one printer.

    You are missing the long game. Scare off the geeks and wealthy from buying this and the tech will never be cheap enough for the scum to buy. The reality is I don't see plastic guns ever replacing metal firearms. The only reason I could see using a plastic gun is to kill someone and then melt down the murder weapon, but I would just buy a replacement barrel for my pistol do the hit and toss the dirty barrel in the swamp. Seems easier. Plus you can give the cop your registered pistol and ballistics will prove that wasn't the gun used in the crime. Nice and cooperative like.

    Disclaimer: I do not sanction nor believe in murder. You hear that NSA all this is purely speculative.

  • pan fried wylie||

    The only reason I could see using a plastic gun is to kill someone and then melt down the murder weapon

    Because metal don't melt! (i know, i know, melting plastic would be easier.)

  • DJK||

    The whole idea is to leverage what people see as expected developments in 3D printing. It's expected that 3D printing will get super cheap and super easy. In that case, it's easy for someone to print an unregistered firearm (much easier than doing the metalworking), or so it's hoped. In that case, you'd have millions of guns distributed around the country and the controllers would have no idea where they are. It's hoped that this would keep the controllers in line.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    (Pro tip: Don't use VisiJet when printing your own gun.)

    Fucking self-regulating systems- how do they work?

  • BoscoH||

    I think the reasonable legal compromise here is to force 3D printer manufacturers to add cameras to their printers. These cameras would upload pictures during and after printing to the Bureau of Distributed Manufacturing. LEOs there would ensure that all printed devices are legal. They would forward pictures to local authorities, who could use the required GPS tags on those photos to ensure that manufacturing was done in areas zoned for it.

  • pan fried wylie||

    when that time comes, I'll just have to depend on my 3d-printed robot army. which will be far superior to any gov't fielded robot army, if the ACA tech rollout is any indicator.

  • Killazontherun||

    You can put any statute you want on the books, but there's not much you can do to regulate what goes on in home workshops

    This was true before 3d printers, if you have the equipment to bend and shape metals, you can make a gun.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Where is the back part of the VisiJet gun?

  • Paul.||

    DIY manufacture of restricted and forbidden objects, is that they render the law largely unenforceable,

    That's not true. The law is enforceable-- it's selectively enforceable. And the most powerful law on the books is a selectively enforced one.

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