Gun Control

When Governments Restrict Guns, People Make Their Own By the Millions

Sophisticated firearms are becoming ever-easier to illicitly manufacture in basic workshops, says a new report. We'll even show you how to do it!


National News/ZUMApress/Newscom

Around the world, governments attempt to limit subjects' legal access to weapons—ostensibly to keep the peace, but in reality often done to minimize challenges to government power. And, around the world, those subjects defy such restrictions, often going so far as to manufacture weapons outside official channels. In fact, DIY firearms ranging in sophistication from muskets to grenade launchers exist in the millions across the planet, according to a new report that should (but won't) finally demonstrate to government officials the futility of efforts to disarm people who insist on being free.

I've written before that defiance of restrictive gun laws is far more common than compliance with them, and not just in the United States but in countries as far apart as Australia and Pakistan. People refuse to register their firearms, they modify them, they smuggle them, and they make them at home and in illegal workshops.

That last approach is the subject of Beyond State Control: Improvised and Craft-produced Small Arms and Light Weapons, a report published this month by the Geneva, Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey. "Improvised and craft-produced small arms and light weapons are widespread in many parts of the world," authors N. R. Jenzen-Jones and G. Hays write. "More data is needed before researchers can arrive at a reliable estimate of these holdings, yet the figure is doubtless in the millions."

The types of weapons people produce for their own use range widely in sophistication: "from crude, improvised single-shot guns to semi-professionally manufactured copies of conventional firearms." The trend is toward more advanced weapons—including mortars, recoilless weapons, and grenade launchers—to satisfy the demands of non-state groups that are often locked in conflict with the governments attempting to disarm them.

That illicit production is so common shouldn't be a surprise. The authors point out that production techniques for firearms continue to be based on 19th-century technology. In an era when home-based hobbyists have access to equipment that would make industrial age entrepreneurs drool, that means there's little barrier to making what can't be legally purchased.

"Consequently," the report notes, "individuals with the desire to undertake fairly straightforward research and acquire basic tools and equipment can manufacture viable homemade small arms."

While many headlines have been devoted in recent years to 3D printing and CNC machinery, which ease the task of manufacturing goods including firearms, these high-tech approaches haven't been necessary to kneecap efforts by governments to disarm their subjects. They do, however, lower the barrier to entry for those who would make their own guns.

"3D manufacturing will not render current international and national controls on firearms obsolete," the report's authors say. "It may, however, make applying these controls more difficult, in effect posing new law enforcement challenges. As additive manufacturing technologies continue to improve and become more readily available to private individuals, it will become increasingly difficult to enforce regulations on firearms manufacturing."

A technology that is already making a major difference in easing DIY gun manufacturing is the internet. "The online sharing of expertise and instructional videos is facilitating the craft production of increasingly sophisticated weapons, including sub-machine guns and anti-materiel rifles," the authors write. But you don't need to take their word for it; instead, you should check out Reason's handy-dandy guide to making your own off-the-books handgun. Video instructions are included.

As of yet, DIY weapons probably constitute a small fraction of the firearms in circulation. Nobody knows how many homemade guns are out there for sure, of course, but commercially manufactured guns remain legally available in much of the world, and easily accessible through black market means in much of the rest. Buying what you want is generally easier than manufacturing the goods.

But where restrictions are tight and illlicit manufacturing has become well-established, DIY guns are increasingly prevalent:

Improvised and craft-produced small arms account for a sizable proportion of weapons seized in domestic law enforcement operations in several countries. In the UK, some 80 per cent of all guns used in crime in 2011 and 2012 were improvised, craft-produced, or converted; in São Paulo, Brazil, 48 per cent of the sub-machine guns recovered during the same period were homemade; and in Indonesia, 98 per cent of the guns confiscated from robbery suspects in 2013 were homemade.

Slightly savvier restrictionists realize that devices that can be manufactured in many people's garages are about as a likely a target for prohibition as plants that can be grown on windowsills. They've turned their attention to ammunition, which at least is consumed and must be replaced.

But reloading expended cartridge cases—DIY ammunition, in other words—is a popular pastime in the United States and elsewhere. "People typically reload to save money, craft a cartridge for a specific need, rather than worry about future government controls," a representative of Dillon Precision, an Arizona-based maker of reloading supplies told me. "But this is a secondary reason to reload, provided you store the components you can't fabricate or reuse."

Components can also be improvised, as Jenzen-Jones and Hays note:

The fired primers of centrefire cartridge cases are sometimes reused with match heads, small percussion caps from children's toys, or other impact-sensitive mixtures that can replace original priming compounds and provide reasonably reliable ignition sources. A propellant charge, whether loaded into a cartridge case or directly into a muzzle-loading firearm, can be improvised, while projectiles—especially shot—can easily be cast from lead or other metals.

While commercial ammunition remains available in vast quantities for most of the world, substitutes have been improvised when needed and the report includes photos of some creative examples.

"Regardless of how they are made," the authors conclude, "improvised and craft-produced weapons … will continue to pose global challenges to law enforcement and policy-makers." Some of us might say that, in a world inhabited by people who view the governments that would disarm them with well-earned distrust, that's exactly how it should be.

NEXT: Christmas Lights Show for Charity? New Jersey Town Wants Homeowners to Pay $2,000 a Night

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s going to apply to more and more products too. Medicine, food, guns, and all sorts of toys and knick knacks …. I suspect the trend in a decade or two will be towards more and more stuff made at home with custom alterations rather than factory bought. Want special cutlery? Special decorations, bigger or smaller than normal, different curvature? That kind of stuff. Maybe a special set for a 50th wedding anniversary party, given to all those who show up.

    Special toys for the kids.

    Most people will take recipes off the internet. Some will customize them. They will be improved and recirculated. Any fool who copyrights such a recipe will find he’s wasted the effort.

    Cars and other big items might have to be made at some rental shop, but not repair parts. Want a better head or exhaust? DIY. Feed the old part in as raw material, plus a little extra if necessary.

    And of course guns, because why not?

    1. I suspect the trend in a decade or two will be towards more and more stuff made at home with custom alterations rather than factory bought.

      Totally bucking the trend of the last couple of centuries of buying more and more mass produced crap between intermittent voluntary social-internet groupthink brainwashing sessions.

      1. It comes down to cost. When factories could produce a thousand times the textiles as home weavers, they made sense. When society is so wealthy that people can afford to pay extra for custom toys, silverware, clothes, or anything else, that will make sense.

        I’d bet the average mass produced crap was far better value than all but the best home made crap.

        1. I’d bet the average mass produced crap was far better value than all but the best home made crap.

          Sure. And this will be true regardless of economics. The only time it won’t be true is for freak breakthroguh, or niche, artistry and people applying their values to products not designed for them. The guy that makes two widgets has better odds at producing a superior widget than the guy that produces just one and the group of guys making hundreds of them will virtually always have better odds. Moreover, the only way the single guy competes cost-effectively is if he can muster the productive capacity of multiple men.

          Substituting men for robots, partially or wholly, doesn’t fundamentally change this. At best, factory producers will be on the bleeding edge of 3D print technology and be able to out print home hobbyists in speed, quality, and price. Their custom orders will take less time and cost less than the printer you have at home which will already be busy printing something else. And all of this just assumes that 3D printing is the all-encompassing technology that it’s not and I’m not talking about capabilities that 3D printing can develop but just hasn’t. Just like other conventional manufacturing methods have their strengths and weaknesses/impossibilities, 3D printing has its own.

          The only way you arrive at your conclusion is if you assume 3D printing to be ubiquitous in many senses of the word and further make some absurd ‘Us vs. Them’ assumptions.

        2. far better value

          Define “value.”

          If I want an NRA t-shirt there are plenty of mass-produced designs available. If I want a t-shirt with a personally-designed 2A message I’ll buy some transfer paper and DIY on my computer. In between, t-shirts for a dozen members of a committee, I’ll go to a local shop for a process that’s something in between.

          Crafty is a superpower.

          1. If I want a t-shirt with a personally-designed 2A message I’ll buy some transfer paper and DIY on my computer.

            I think you mean you’ll 3D print it in 2D using your old 2D 3D printer at home.

  2. What more is there to say?

    The gun controllers have lost but they are so very dim, so dim that most of them cannot see that they’ve lost.

    There is simply no point in talking to them. Or caring about anything they have to say.

    1. Given that many of those people have or seek to have the power to send other men with guns in your direction to inflict violence on you for noncompliance, you absolutely should care about what they say.

      1. They’ve already said it. I know what they want.

        I no longer have to pay attention to them as they never say anything new.

      2. Only in theory. When 3D printers are as common as TVs today and come in enough varieties to make almost anything, including themselves, it won’t matter what the statists want. They won’t have enough police or enough jails to keep people under control.

        1. When 3D printers are as common as TVs today and come in enough varieties to make almost anything, including themselves, it won’t matter what the statists want.

          This is a paradox. You won’t ever extrude bulk metal, frequently used to build 3D printers, with a 3D printer. All you need is the extruder. Moreover, there are lots of 3D printer designs that were designed with ‘making themselves’ in mind and it’s actually a bit of a hindrance to the design because step 1 involves either already having a 3D printer to print the parts or purchasing the parts online from someone who uses a 3D printer to mass produce them.

        2. They could 3D print more jails

        3. I would surmise that eventually all commercially available 3D printers will be locked into Google SafeSearch, that on-board intelligent agents will review plans before manufacture to see if it “looks like a weapon” or “looks like drug paraphernalia” and reject any such designs that do, or quietly report back on exactly what they printed. It’s possible that future 3D printers may be locked into a single supplier of designs, like Apple’s iTunes store, and weapon designs are NEVER cleared for distribution.

          There may come a federal law criminalizing “jailbreaking” a Stratsys, because only criminals need one that can print ANYTHING.
          This becomes even more likely, if a virus can order up the printer to print, and then launch, a drone-based weapons platform straight from the print bed. Or if, years or decades before it’s practical, (as was the case with “plastic” guns), the media and congress decide to be afraid of this far-future application.

          1. Considering there’s something like 250,000 3D printers and an optimistic upper estimate of 50K active users, it would be easier just to license the users than the printers. Especially considering that a good number of those users are already government owned or contracted institutions (e.g. schools, libraries, defense contractors). And especially, especially considering that the rest are posting their 1,000,000:1 gear ratio transmissions and Statue of Liberty tchotchkis on YouTube while actively supporting Thingiverse’s ban on/purge of gun parts.

            1. You can still order blackpowder guns by mail-order, but for a “modern” firearm, you have to go through a gun dealer.
              If I were The Government, I’d not be afraid of the current generation of consumer-grade 3D printers. I’d be afraid of the next generation, and what they might be able to do.
              It would be comparatively easy to talk the manufacturers on the cutting edge of quality to add the features the government wants. If someone throws together a RepRap that can do .1mm traces and .5mm feature size in a single material, a thermoplastic, and which needs a lot of “some assembly required”, I wouldn’t be overly concerned, but RepRap isn’t the cutting edge.

          2. “that on-board intelligent agents will review plans before manufacture to see if it “looks like a weapon” or “looks like drug paraphernalia” They already do that.

    2. I appreciate your POV [that there is no dialogue with such people] but agree with TLAH that they are not going to give up all that easily. First and foremost gun control is a political narrative that is exploited to fire up a base and to get them to vote accordingly. As long as that pays dividends for them, it will remain a front and center issue. And of course it is a cause that has become near and dear to a number of pols and their supporters in its own right, and they truly believe we need to be like Europe or Japan and make it impossible to own one. That fight will not likely end in our lifetimes.

      1. Religions don’t give up their tenets just because they’ve been proven to be bullshit.

      2. I disagree.

        The fight to ban guns in the USA WILL end in our lifetime like this:

        When enough people finally realize that the US Dollar is yet another worthless fiat currency in a long history of worthless fiat currencies and hyperinflation kicks in OR when they realize that the US gov’t can’t possibly pay back all its debts, there will be a global economic crisis greater than any seen before.

        When that occurs, having a firearm will become an absolute necessity for every family’s survival (just as it was on the American frontier). At that point, ordinary gun control freaks will themselves see the value in having a firearm, and they will stop voting to ban guns. Sure, the elites will still be selling gun control, but everyone will very clearly see the hypocrisy as they surround themselves with a small army of armed guards (just as the elites did in Zimbabwe when they had their hyperinflation).

        1. So apocalypse then; maybe I just do not want to believe that [not as young as I used to be…] but nonetheless have my own inventory and can never have “enough” supplies as I will never trust the government in any form to leave me alone in that regard.

          I find I even masque my comments so as not to tip off anyone who might go looking, such as a US Attorney from a Northeastern State, for example.

          1. or Kalifornexico for that matter

  3. They do, however, lower the barrier to entry for those who would make their own guns.

    Well, they do if the barrier to making your own weapons stepping over piles of cash or getting off your ass. If you don’t happen to have piles of cash in your way and happen to be in an ass parking glut, you can readily produce a gun without a 3D printer with about the same amount of practice, technical knowledge, and fewer and more readily available resources.

    Gingery was printing books about making entire workshops out of pot metal before PLA was commercially affordable.

  4. In fact, DIY firearms ranging in sophistication from muskets to grenade launchers exist in the millions across the planet [?]

    Millions? Not “tens of millions” or “hundreds of millions”, but just “millions”?

    We’re numbering in the billions. Mere millions of homemade guns doesn’t sound too alarming.

    1. I would guess that it’s only millions because even in the most repressive area’s it’s probably easier to bribe the local military/police supply to “misplace” a few than make them.

      1. True. In Venezuela, corrupt cops and military are known to sell guns and ammo to the people.

        If the USA ever bans guns, some cops will be willing to supply the black market with guns.

        1. Some cops ARE supplying the black market with guns. Can you say “Chicago”?

    2. We’re numbering in the billions. Mere millions of homemade guns doesn’t sound too alarming.

      I just assumed the number was more aptly described ‘millions of guns admitted to being manufactured even in places where gun ownership is illegal’.

      1. Low billions. If even low millions of craft-produced guns are being made, that means that there is one craft-produced firearm for every thousand or so people, on top of the readily available, legally and commercially sold mass-manufactured ones.
        But, let’s suppose mid millions, that’s about one per one-hundred people.
        And again, this when it’s still easier, and far safer, to get a gun through normal, commercial channels, than to go the DIY or black-market route.

        You know, I never did like “home-made”. So many restaurants are serving “home-made” the term has long lost all meaning. “Craft produced” is so, USEFUL, so INCLUSIVE and a FAR more accurate descriptive for what is typically referred to as “home-made”.

  5. …that should (but won’t) finally demonstrate to government officials the futility of efforts to disarm people who insist on being free.

    I suppose you think also that just because it’s useless authorities should give up efforts to fight recreational drug use.

  6. “Well, we’ll just make it illegal to learn how to make things. So there!”

    1. Don’t give them ideas.

  7. Really?

    What is next?

    Gangbangers making their own meth?

  8. I’ve built six trebuchets, and I refuse to ever register them!!

  9. There is a massive, thriving, business of after-market parts that produces 100% of the parts needed to make a large number of popular firearms. Anybody with access to an old lathe, milling machine, and drill press can go into business in their garage.

  10. Been following the reports of DIY guns recovered by police in South America, India, Australia, Israel etc. for years now. TheFirearmsBlog carries those reports often.

    “… 3D printing and CNC machinery … lower the barrier to entry for those who would make their own guns …”

    One can make guns with a shop vise, hand drill, files, hacksaw, and access to blocks of brass or iron, seamless tubing, nails, screws, nuts & bolts, springs, sheet metal. Electric drill, grinder, soldering and welding equipment help.

    3D printers and CNC machinery are actually pretty expensive and hard to find “off the books”. Going to those methods is actually raising the bar not lowering it.

    Bring me photos of a gun shop in the Khyber Pass with a 3D printer or CNC machine, I might laugh.

    1. True this. Here’s a look:

      “The Gun Markets of Pakistan”

  11. “We do not allow our enemies to have ideas.
    Why should we allow them to have guns?”

    Joseph Stalin – humanitarian, philanthropist and all-round nice guy.

  12. Can the average guy make a pistol in his garage? Yeah, if he wants to deal with crap that could blow up in his face. Can a guy with machinist experience make a pistol in his garage. Yeah, although reliability and comfort of use will be an issue. Can a very good machinist with experience across shop fields make a quality pistol in his garage? Absolutely, if it doesn’t need to be pretty. When you get to machine trade craftsman, now you’re talking. But most of them in this country are either dead or on the way. I got in late, and I’m in my mid-60s.

    Now if you carry it and get caught? Fucked, big-time.

    1. The purpose of a homemade pistol is to get you access to a better pistol. It doesn’t have to be quality as long as it works at the moment you need it.

  13. I watched an illiterate 15-year-old kid in the Asian Pacific make completed AK receivers out of shovel blades with a ferrier’s forge, a big truck wheel for a forming die and anvil, a hammer and a few files. They produced the whole firearm locally (including very dirty, corrosive ammo) with 19th Century technology.
    Does anyone really think this can be stopped?

    1. Not only that, but if somehow metallic cartridge ammo were magically completely banned, people would simply switch to any of these weapons: blackpowder firearms, IEDs, zip guns, mortars.

      And of course people can always switch to knives/swords/machetes like in London or bows and arrows in the worst case (see DIY PVC recurve bow videos online).

      1. Well…
        Black powder is a limiting factor in using a gun you might need to fire more than a handful of times before you can strip it and clean it.
        For all those who would like to reduce this country to only possessing single-shot rifles, black-powder would be a wonderful solution.
        Speaking of solution. 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal, 10% sulfur, mixed wet with non-sparking implements.

        I find it interesting that the recipe for at least one solid rocket fuel looks almost the same as that for black powder, but with sugar substituted for one of the ingredients.

    2. Sure, just ban shovels.

  14. What does the gun-banning left expect?

    They keep ignoring the laws in the ways that they prefer, so what makes them think that their opponents (gun owners) won’t follow their lead and also ignore the laws.

    I have a gun control freak neighbor who demands universal gun registration, yet she continues to refuse to register her out-of-state car with this state’s DMV (still has the out-of-state plates). Yet it doesn’t occur to her that if she can ignore automobile registration, gun owners can ignore gun registration.

    1. Did you tell her that? Sounds like a fascinating over-the-fence conversation.

  15. I’m going to just leave this here for others to find.
    I promise it’s germane to the subject, but the URL alone should make that clear enough.

  16. the United States is currently using collusion between the two major political parties to restrict firearms AND severely restrict access to legal spare parts to maintain or alter legally purchased firearms. It’s also a part of the plan to allow the 1000s of ILLEGAL ALIENS free access to the US. the Dems and GOP both realize that these ILLEGAL ALIENS who have fled oppressive governments are easily manipulated sheep that can be herded the same way they were in their home countries.

  17. I essentially started three weeks past and that i makes $385 benefit $135 to $a hundred and fifty consistently simply by working at the internet from domestic. I made ina long term! “a great deal obliged to you for giving American explicit this remarkable opportunity to earn more money from domestic. This in addition coins has adjusted my lifestyles in such quite a few manners by which, supply you!”. go to this website online domestic media tech tab for extra element thank you .

  18. Working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.

    HERE http://www.SalaryHD.Com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.