3D Printing

3D-Printed Guns 'Impossible' To Control, DHS Tells Law Enforcement. Well, That's the Whole Idea.


3D-printed Liberator handgun
Defense Distributed

Firearms created by 3D printing technology are likely beyond the ability of governments to restrict or control, the Department of Homeland Security advises law enforcement agencies in a bulletin prepared by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center. The bulletin, obtained and quoted by Fox News, apparently frets over the relative difficulty of detecting 3D-printed guns, as well as the ease with which they can be produced. It acknowledges the daunting task inherent in trying to prevent the distribution of designs for such guns, comparing that challenge to stopping the trading of music and movie files online.

From Fox News:

A new Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin warns it could be "impossible" to stop 3D-printed guns from being made, not to mention getting past security checkpoints.

A May 21 bulletin distributed to numerous state and federal law enforcement agencies and obtained by FoxNews.com states that the guns, which can be made by downloading blueprints into cutting edge computers that mold three-dimensional items from melted plastic, "poses public safety risks" and are likely beyond the current reach of regulators. The guns threaten to render 3D gun control efforts useless if their manufacture becomes more widespread.

Under orders from the State Department, Defense Distributed pulled its designs for the Liberator handgun, depicted above, offline, while it prepares for a legal challenge to the order. But those plans had already been downloaded over 100,000 times and remain available from venues including Pirate Bay. The plans have already been modified, including to create working firearms on low-cost printers that are more readily affordable than the device used by Defense Distributed. With the plans released, endlessly replicable and morphing, the bulletin concedes that the cat is out of the bag:

"Proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production," the memo says. "Even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these digital files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files."

As a result, the memo concludes, "limiting access may be impossible."

I noted recently that preventing the DIY revolution that brings us easily produced homemade guns, and so much more, is now a goal confined to wishful thinking. And that, of course, is the whole idea of developing and spreading the technology — to put its control beyond the practical reach of the control freaks, even if that means frustrating a fearful majority.

Find more of Reason's coverage of 3D-printed guns and the related controversy here.

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  1. You can’t stop the signal.

    1. Doesn’t mean they won’t waste billions in a futile attempt. Statists gonna state.

      1. EXACTLY. This will just lead to MORE worthless legislation that punishes the law abiding citizen and more covert agencies scouring the interwebz to seek and track illegal 3D gun programs back to YOUR computer, resulting in middle of the night no knock warrants and your favorite puppy laying in a pool of its own blood. (And the warrants will be written by the DOJ.)

        If we don’t the terrorists will win.

  2. what’s the over/under for the homicide with a 3D plastic gun?

    1. . . . for the first homicide . . .

      Too bad the fucking preview button still doesn’t work in the “new” commenting system.

      1. When the price of a 3-D printer drops below the street price of a throwaway gun.

        1. There are lots of tech-nerds that will build one just for the lulz. Once it exists, it could be used in the heat of the moment for a crime of passion or an act of depression.

          More likely, there will come a time when someone makes an undetectable gun, because it’s undetectable to be used for its intended purpose.

          I can’t figure out which is more likely to happen first.

          1. I’m pretty sure that the casings and bullets will still be detectable.

            I doubt the density of the 3-d printer materials will ever make a good lethal projectile.

            1. Ceramic bullets?

              1. Maybe, but it seems like there would be serious performance issues. Zirconia — the densest ceramic material I know of — has density of 6 g/ml versus lead’s 11 g/ml. I have no idea whether ceramic would hold up when fired as a bullet. Its hardness probably would prevent it from rifling properly.

                1. the slow blade penetrates the shield.

                  1. Great movie.

                2. WS2 is about 7.5 and insanely tough and refractory. Might be too lubricious in practice so that the bullet just passes through with minimum damage… We can’t process it today in 3D printers, but if there’s a need to, some clever guy will figure it out.

                  1. “Might be too lubricious in practice so that the bullet just passes through with minimum damage… ”

                    Either make it flat nosed or make the nose out of something else that expands.

                    1. I remember when wad cutters were among the most effective handgun rounds and most cops carried round nose .38 special or semi-wad cutter .357.

                3. “Its hardness probably would prevent it from rifling properly.”

                  Easy to fix. Make the bullet longer and more arrow like and put it in a plastic sabot, or give it fins. It may be possible to make a very effective projectile that flies even faster than a lead bullet. Most likely accuracy would suffer.

            2. And a single cartridge is easier to conceal than a handgun.

              Let’s not forget the untraceable part as well.

            3. Not necessarily. Current materials wouldn’t make a good bullet for any sort of range, but if it were going to be used up close and personal, the density of the material would be more than sufficient to penetrate flesh.

              The casing, I’m not sure of. It seems to me that if they can make a chamber that can withstand a shot, making a casing should be easy. Casings are made of very soft metal and don’t have to withstand the forces.

              1. Jon-Eric Hexum comes to mind for some reason. You don’t need much of a projectile at point blank range.

                This isn’t a combat weapon. This is an assassin’s tool. You walk up to somebody with a uniform and a gun, jam it in the back of their neck, fire, and take their gun.

                1. You walk up to somebody with a uniform and a gun, jam it in the back of their neck, fire, and take their gun.

                  They will be quite handy once the revolution comes.

                  1. As a buddy of mine (now deceased) once said: it won’t matter if you don’t have a fully automatic weapon when the revolution comes. If you live through the first week, you will.

                    1. Having a fully automatic weapon might make it easier to live through that first week.

                    2. Using a 3d printed throw away gun might help with acquiring one.

                    3. Cato,

                      Copper, with a density of ~9 g/cc is often used for bullets, these environmentally sensitive days. 6 doesn’t seem like that big a shortfall, especially considering you’re not going to be shooting it all that far.

                      Would uranium show up on a metal detector or backscatter radar search? Worse comes to worse, the assassin can internally store the few projectiles they’d need. The task of retrieving them, I leave as an exercise for the reader.

                      For the liberator, what would happen if you had a case separation in the chamber? Total pistol failure? Would you have to reinforce the chamber to fire a caseless round and would that reinforcement even be feasible?

                    4. Easy to fix. Make the bullet longer and more arrow like and put it in a plastic sabot, or give it fins.

                      Just shape it like a Foster slug.

              2. but if it were going to be used up close and personal, the density of the material would be more than sufficient to penetrate flesh.

                Plenty of people have gotten killed with the wads from blanks. Freddie Prinze immediately comes to mind.

          2. There are lots of tech-nerds that will build one just for the lulz.

            Just so happens that the modified version of the Liberator JD links to is called the Lulz Liberator. Printed from the Lulzbot AO-101 printer

            1. a buddy of mine and big L owns that company

        2. When the price of * hiring someone who owns a 3D printer to print you a gun * drops below the street price of a throwaway gun.

          As in, any moment now.

          1. I’m still waiting for disposable guns that will explode once they’re out of bullets. Borderlands 2, can you really see the future?

    2. I’d think it would be pretty unlikely in the short term. Buying a gun is still cheaper than buying a 3D printer.

      1. darn you

        1. Yeah, I know, right?

          I think we’re much more likely to see the a case where the FBI or the local drug goons raid someone’s home or business and find a 3D printer, which they take into evidence as “bomb making materials” or some such bullshit.

          1. Law enforcement will definitely be stealing those things whenever they have opportunity. That’s for sure.

            1. More like droping them next to the body whenever they can.

              1. I meant the printers.

      2. Some places it is easy to buy a gun, some places it isn’t.

        Some places it is easy to carry a gun, some places it isn’t.

      3. I’m guessing it will be a hit. Throwing a gun in the river or in a random dumpster isn’t quite as effective as just melting it down. I only know a few people with access to enough heat to melt a metal gun, but I could melt a plastic gun in my back yard.

        1. Why melt it. If it’s untraceable and you wear gloves just leave it at the crime scene.

          1. Because then there is no physical evidence at all. I’m not a hitman OR a forensic scientist, but I’d wager that having absolutely nothing in terms of a murder weapon is worse for LEO/prosecutor than having a gun that is untraceable.

            I may be completely wrong, but it seems that printing off a single shot .22 would be easier and cheaper than buying an actual metal gun for each hit.

            1. Hiring someone to print the guns for you could be way cheaper than buying a metal gun. The problem is likely more that if you’re gonna do a hit, you prolly want more than a single bullet gun, in case you miss or only wound them or they have a buddy in the next room or …

              1. I was thinking more along the lines of the execution style of a hit. Maybe I’m thinking too Hollywood, and that kind of killing doesn’t actually happen. Again, I’m not a hitman.

                1. Handguns suck. Along with prolefeed, I’d think your killer would want more than one shot. Still better than not having any at all though.

        2. are magnesium and rust now controlled substances?

          1. Now that you’ve given them the idea, it’s only a matter of time.

        3. Most guns today are polymer with the slide and barrel being the major metal components. I think a torch with some MAPP gas would do the trick. I still have a half-full canister of the stuff.

      4. More relevant to the use of a 3-d printer gun: stealing a gun is way easier than stealing a 3-d printer.

      5. I’d think it would be pretty unlikely in the short term. Buying a gun is still cheaper than buying a 3D printer.

        In most places in America, true.

  3. I hate when journalists try to simplify new science or technology to the point of being actively incorrect. 3D printers have neither a cutting edge nor a mold.

    1. So say we all.

    2. Dunno if you like Anthony Bourdain or not, he seems to have a lot of hate directed to him in this forum, but in one of his latest shows he visited post-revolution Libya. Some of the improvised weapons they used were fucking nuts.

      1. According to Mythbusters this didn’t work out to well:


  4. 3D printed grenades and mines frighten me. Just add powder and shrapnel

    1. Why does that frighten you? If you have access to the powder then shrapnel can be anything, and the casing can be bought at any hardware store.

      3d printing changes nothing in the area of bombs.

      1. Any high-end kitchen appliance will do.

      2. Then again, (though his name gets mentioned so much around here, we’re practically an unofficial fan club), Charlie Stross had a section in one of his books about the hilarity that ensued when 3d printers that could make WMDs (specifically, a uranium fission weapon) were available to citizens.

        Though, even in the future, getting the fissile material was the hardest part.

        The 3d printers for chemicals are another thing I think will be revolutionary. Imagine being able to create nearly any C-10 carbon compound on your desktop.

  5. I like the cut of defense distributed’s jib. I hope the result of their work is that people give up on trying to regulate firearms. I’m afraid this will lead to a War on Firearms much like the WOD when the government senses they don’t have control anymore.

    1. Yeah, this^. It will just wind up being a pretext for more laws, more snooping, and more control. For the children. And because the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

  6. You know what else couldn’t be controlled?

    1. Government?

      1. Young men’s urges?

  7. I can see the airlines pushing for “no carry-on baggage” (will up their check baggage revenue)rules and TSA demanding patdowns of
    all travelers.

  8. I don’t see how these things would be invisible to x-rays in carry-on luggage. I got stopped at Green Bay airport once because the blocks of cheese in my carry on looked suspicious on the x-ray. Yes, cheese has more water which will show up, but you can’t tell me these guns wouldn’t appear. I can see metal detectors being foiled but they are hardly front line devices anymore except at schools and courthouses.

    1. They sensed your cheese and were drawn to it. I hope you denied them your dairy essence.

      1. They’re called cheese heads for a reason and it’s not because of the funny hats.

    2. Wrap your guns in cheese.

  9. No way I will print out a firearm on my Prusa. It just ain’t safe.
    Improvised (Zip guns) firearms are as much a danger to the user as the target.

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