Gun Control

'Ghost Gunner' from Cody Wilson Allows Home Milling Lower Receivers for Rifles for Just Over a Thousand Bucks


Cody Wilson, famous for making and popularizing the first 3D-printed plastic handgun (I profiled him at length in Reason's December 2013 issue), and his group Defense Distributed today debuted their latest provocation aimed at making gun possession easier, cheaper, and most importantly more outside the totalizing view of the state.

Ghost Gunner

Wilson and his team were inspired by a proposed law that passed the California House and Senate but which Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed yesterday. The law, known as the "ghost gun" bill, would have banned guns without serial numbers filed with the government of any sort, as well as forcing those who do make homemade weapons to go through new procedures and background checks and getting federal Department of Justice approval before doing so.

Essentially, the bill would ban making a gun that the state didn't know about and mark. (Nick Gillespie blogged about the ghost gun bill here last month.)

The LA Times reported Brown's surprisingly sensible statement on vetoing the bill, pushed forward by Democratic state Rep. Kevin de Leon: "I appreciate the author's concerns about gun violence, but I can't see how adding a serial number to a homemade gun would significantly advance public safety." Exactly right, Gov. Brown.

To show exactly how right Brown was, and to educate any other state legislature that might contemplate following in de Leon's footsteps, Wilson and his Defense Distributed team launched a website today called

Through it they are selling a tabletop milling machine which can, quoting from their FAQ, "manufacture any mil-spec 80% AR-15 lower receiver that already has the rear take down well milled out. ….Lowers with non-mil-spec trigger guards that are otherwise mil-spec are also compatible. Defense Distributed recommends using the 7075 Ares Armor Raw 80% Lower AR-15 Billet."

Wilson launched the project in response to de Leon's bill, to "the rhetoric developed out of California of detectability as the norm, of the observability of everything to the modern state. This guy de Leon defined as a 'ghost' something not intelligible to the state and that's a perfect way of talking about it. So this device will cut aluminum and it's good at finishing an 80 percent lower receiver for an AR-15 in under an hour." (Roughly, the ATF declares any lower receiver that is more than 80 percent complete as an actual gun subject to all regulations on actual guns.)

Wilson waited to see what Brown would do with the bill before publicly launching; he's convinced that had they gone live this time yesterday that Brown's office might have been scared into signing the ghost gun bill that Brown instead vetoed.

Wilson has always, as detailed in my 2013 profile, seen his actions as a complicated dance of reactions to what his controlling opponents do, and he generally understands what they will then do in reaction to him. "We decided we have to give them that world they are worried about with [de Leon's ghost gun bill], to create the problem they are talking about, to give that problem to them," Wilson says.

Laws like de Leon's, Wilson thinks, offer a "preferred regulatory landscape that's predicated on all the things that the digital manufacturing revolution" has made easier by an order of magnitude, not being as easy to get around as they actually are. Wilson just wants to remind controllers they don't live in the world they think they live in, a world where a mere law will actually stop something they perceive as a problem: someone possessing a tool of self-defense that is not visible and regulatable by the state.

The Ghost Gunner website FAQ has further technical details on how the tabletop device works, and this comment on the current legality of using it:

Semi-automatic firearms, including the AR-15 lower receivers, are generally legal to manufacture for private individuals per US federal law Title 18 do not require serialization or other maker's marks. However, some states/municipalities restrict either the manufacture of certain firearms, or, more recently, the personal manufacture of a firearm with a 3D printer and/or CNC machine. DD makes no claim regarding local manufacturing legality; lower receiver files provided by Defense Distributed might require special licensing to manufacture and/or possess. 

Under federal law, manufacturing a firearm for contemplation of future sale without an FFL is prohibited. Without a manufacturing FFL, you should manufacture firearms for personal use only. There are methods to legally transfer ownership of personally manufactured firearms, but they do not apply when the original manufacturing intent is to build a firearm for commercial or non-personal use. Recent ATF determinations have signaled that allowing others use of your CNC equipment may itself constitute manufacturing, therefore Defense Distributed advises GhostGunner owners to neither print firearms for other individuals, nor allow other individuals to use their GhostGunner to manufacture firearms.

You can pre-order the device for $1199 now (the earlier $999 price already sold out), and they promise holiday delivery.

Andy Greenberg at Wired wrote about it this morning. Excerpt that nicely sums up why making a homemade "lower receiver" for a rifle is such a big deal:

A lower receiver is the body of the gun that connects its stock, barrel, magazine and other parts. As such, it's also the rifle's most regulated element. Mill your own lower receiver at home, however, and you can order the rest of the parts from online gun shops, creating a semi-automatic weapon with no serial number, obtained with no background check, no waiting period or other regulatory hurdles.  

Greenberg also quotes Wilson explaining why he's moved from plastic 3D weapons to metal milled ones in his latest project:

[Wilson's] switch from 3-D printing to CNC milling metal makes the ubiquitous creation of usable, lethal weapons one step more practical . "3-D printing [guns] was about signaling the future. This is about the present," he says. "You can use this machine today to create something to the standards you're used to…The gold standard of the gun community is metal."

The promotional video for the project, in classic Wilson style, uses only the words of Rep. de Leon and an ATF agent and the music of Satie, and features the look of an arty horror flick to both scare the squares and hep the aware to the fact that no matter what the state thinks it can do to stop you from owning guns, ingenuity and technology and indomitable will can get around their efforts. (Favorite touches: the glowing pig mask over a light fixture, and the mixture of a shadowy figure reading in a dark room with the Ghost Gunner and a gun on a table):

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  1. I love the part about “Let’s make the politicians nightmare a reality”

  2. Is it wrong to want one just because I think a bare aluminum reciever in an otherwise black rifle would look good?

    1. Sure, why don’t you just scream “WHITE POWER!”


      1. I know there’s a load of sarcasm in there, but I don’t get it.

        1. AR WHITEWASH

          it is known as “the Black Rifle”.

    2. Watching the video – I was proven right.

  3. No dimensioned drawings? What is this?

  4. “”We decided we have to give them that world they are about “

    I like this guy.

    I have at times felt similarly about the internet SJW freaks, or people who insist on using “food” as a platform for moral-superiority projection: they deserve to live in a world where their worst projected nightmares are in fact *real*. Its too ridiculous having to deal with their ‘projections’ of horror – why not manifest them and let them fight *that* instead of constantly haranguing ‘normal’ people?

    i.e. as a thought-experiment: a MMORPG all about rape and subordination? A restaurant that only serves GMO produce and laboratory-tortured animals? ‘decapitate your own chicken’-Jerk Shack?


  5. While I appreciate the effort and resistance to gov. control, most gun production will probably always be controlled through large corporations. I just dont see most people going back to producing their weapons. Id just buy as much as you can now. Stock up and keep it hidden.

    1. That’s the way the government wants it. Done through licensing of course.

    2. While I appreciate the effort and resistance to gov. control, most gun production will probably always be controlled through large corporations. I just dont see most people going back to producing their weapons.

      You’re right, but one doesn’t negate the other. Just like with actual gun ownership, most people don’t have to. If 1 in 10 civilians you meet on the street is armed to the teeth, odds are pretty good that you messing around with people at large will probably get you shot. If 1 in 10 gun owners owns ghost guns, 1 in 10 gunsmiths can meet that demand and still effectively negate the notion of a firearms registry or other regulation.

      And there are plenty of people for whom the DIY gun is more about the DIY and less about the gun.

  6. “I appreciate the author’s concerns about gun violence, but I can’t see how adding a serial number to a homemade gun would significantly advance public safety.”

    If, however, the law required seizing the weapon and imprisoning the builder instead of merely assigning a serial number, Brown would gladly have signed it.

  7. Id just buy as much as you can now. Stock up and keep it hidden.

    Buy from private parties.

    1. Buy from private parties.

      And remember to declare your guns as having been stolen when possible/necessary.

    2. I dont know if thats even neccessary. If the gov. ever actually tries to confiscate weapons en masse its not gonna matter whether they were bought secretly or they have you listed to the weapon. Cause at that point simply being a gun owner will probably constitute a crime, and I doubt how many ot type will matter. They simply do what the government does best. Kill and punish.. For now theyll keep trying to do the feinstein thing and simply outlaw guns rather than actually confiscate them.

  8. I get the the typical control-freak, statism. What is the underlying threat to their authority that gets their panties in a twist? Is getting an ‘upper’ somehow not under their control? Or is it the potential for full auto that is getting them to come unhinged?

    1. What is the underlying threat to their authority that gets their panties in a twist?

      All the other parts are, varyingly, legally ‘ghostable’. So, last gasp of a dying movement?

    2. Everything but the lower receiver can be a made and sold without any registration or serial numbers.

  9. 3-D printing [guns] was about signaling the future.

    Until the future said, “Sorry, Cody, no guns.”

    The gold standard of the gun community is metal.

    Then Cody realized what virtually every gun owner/maker has known since ancient China.

  10. Haha, what’s a “30 caliber clip?” That’s a new one.

  11. On the down side, if you’re out legally shooting it and a cop or other enforcement asshole comes along, they can just steal it from you. Without any identifying numbers that match a piece of paper, you cannot prove ownership.

    A coworker was telling me about how that happened to a friend of his. The guy is a gifted gunsmith, and had made what he thought was a cool design. Well, so did the ATF agent who took it from him.

    1. Not entirely true; if there are unique design elements in the firearm, and care is taken to document the design of those unique design elements, then ownership can be demonstrated via a preponderance of the evidence.

      This is commonly used for IP such as trade secrets and pre-patented inventions.

    2. That’s what the remote detonation device is for.

  12. I know nothing about guns. What does 80% mill spec mean? Can I just put a chunk of high-grade metal in there and out comes a receiver? THIS IS FREAKIN AWESOME BTW LOVE YOU CODY in a totally platonic way. No homo.

    1. The article briefly touches on it. It pertains to the ATF regulations that state anything beyond 80% is considered a working firearm (whereas and “80% lower” is just a part).

    2. Yeah, I wish one could just drop a squared billet of aluminum with no other machining and it would machine the entire thing but that’s apparently not doable at a reasonable (drink?) price point at this time.

      1. Yeah, I wish one could just drop a squared billet of aluminum with no other machining and it would machine the entire thing but that’s apparently not doable at a reasonable (drink?) price point at this time.

        When it comes to DIY, price point isn’t (exactly) the issue. The price point is whatever you charge yourself per hours plus materials and how much you value the experience. Most gun owners would prefer to wish guns into existence for free and anything less is burdensome.

        Samuel Colt nor John Browning had neither the advanced technology nor the disposable income that your average gun enthusiast today enjoys.

        1. er… Samuel Colt nor John Browning had neither the advanced technology nor the disposable income that your average gun enthusiast today enjoys.

          When they started out. Both men, somewhat obviously, died wealthy.

          Now, the price point on edit buttons appears to be prohibitively high.

    3. These 80% AR-15 Lower receivers start as 7075-T6 forgings from the lead forge in the US and are fully machined to mil-spec tolerances. The operations left to be completed are as follows/ fire control group, trigger pin, hammer pin, trigger slot and the safety selector hole. This is a not an FFL item. This is not a complete receiver and still requires machining to be done.…..26752.aspx
      Google is cool.

  13. Honestly, I’m surprised that that device is rigid enough to mill aluminum at a reasonable (DRINK) rate.

  14. I have a mill, and with it I can make one from scratch. For 1200.00 you can buy a chicom mill and do way more with it. The advantage to the ghost machine is that less skill is required as far as set-up and operation. because the spindle is affixed to the fixture holding the 80% lower. You just pop it in and hit go. Basic fixtures are available to make setup easier in regular mills.

    That’s the point of build parties. One guy has a mill and a fixture. Everyone attending brings their lowers and parts, and the host explains the milling procedure to them. Then each builder machines his own lower. That way, you can build a rifle without having to buy the special stuff.

    Personally, I would love design and build a one off. I have the skill and equipment. Now i just need the time. I’m thinking 10 round .44 magnum revolving rifle out of stainless.

    1. But, but . . . civilization would collapse or something if we were free! And the children, what about the CHILDREN?

  15. my classmate’s step-mother makes $66 every hour on the computer . She has been fired from work for 8 months but last month her payment was $12155 just working on the computer for a few hours. check out the post right here….


  16. This is mostly just politics. The only way to rid the criminal element of guns is to un-invent them. I have to say the term “ghost guns’ is clever. below is a good shotgun made with a stapler, a caulk gun,some plumbing fittings, and hand tools. these are big in places where guns are banned.…..979ce0.jpg

  17. This Cody Wilson…….I like the cut of his gib.

  18. If this is a shotgun with what looks like a 6 inch barrel the recoil is probably prohibitive to any kind of enjoyable recreational shooting. There was a book called “American Guerrilla in the Phillipines” I read years ago that gave a good description of how they made a very effective 12 gauge shotgun out of common 1″ and 3/4″ steel water or gas pipe,a 1″ threaded end cap for same,a nail and a hand carved wooden butt stock out of local lumber. 5 pieces,2 moving parts.

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