3D Printing

The Right to Print Arms

3D-printed guns are here. Get used to it.


Are you very afraid? 3D-printed guns are coming.

"Virtually undetectable!" shrieked CNN.

"This changes the safety of Americans forever!" shrieked MSNBC.

Does it?

Six years ago, a company called Defense Distributed posted blueprints for 3D-printed guns on the web. The Obama State Department said that violated the Arms Control Act because allowing foreigners to see them is equivalent to exporting a missile launcher, and that's illegal.

Defense Distributed withdrew the blueprints. Gun control advocates were relieved.

"We have enough guns in this country already," Massachusetts legislator David Linsky tells me in my new video about 3D-printed guns.

But this debate is about free speech, too.

"You can't ban lawful U.S. citizens from sharing information with other lawful U.S. citizens," says Defense Distributed's lawyer, Josh Blackman.

"After the Oklahoma City bombing, Congress asked the Department of Justice, 'Can we make a law that bans putting bomb-making instruction on the internet?' The DOJ said, 'No, you can't ban putting files on the internet.'"

Not even files showing how to make a nuclear weapon?

A "nuclear bomb [is] different because it's classified information," he said. Courts have upheld restrictions on publishing classified information.

But the web is filled with unclassified information about how to make all sorts of deadly things.

"Should The Anarchist Cookbook be banned"? I asked Linsky. It contains deadly recipes.

"There's no reason to ban books," he replied. "The genie is out of the bottle a long, long time ago on The Anarchist Cookbook. But this is a very different thing whereby all you have to do is download a file, press a button and a printer gives you a gun."

It's actually not that easy.

U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) made it sound as if anyone could make a 3D gun. "Bad people can go to Instagram and get an insta-gun!"

But that's silly, like so much of what Markey says.

"It's actually a very complicated process," explains Blackman. You need technological expertise and very specific materials. "It might take a full day of printing. You have to treat the plastic with chemicals so that they're strong enough. Even then, odds are, the gun's pretty crappy."

True. When my TV show tried one, it wouldn't fire.

But the technology will improve.

It's said that 3D guns will be "a windfall for terrorists."

"Terrorists have access to far more dangerous weapons," responds Blackman. "The notion that ISIS is…making these stupid little plastic guns that can fire one shot at a time strains credulity."

But can't plastic guns sneak past airport security?

"Bullets are made out of metal," notes Blackman. "Plastic and rubber bullets are not very effective."

America has a long tradition of people making their own guns, often for good reasons.

"If we had a ban on home manufacture of weapons during the time of the American Revolution, we would probably still be under the King's rule," cracked Blackman.

"It was a very different society," argues Linsky. "Now we have AR-15s."

Blackman had an answer for that: "Rights were enshrined in the Constitution for permanence…. They're there for the long haul."

Although Defense Distributed withdrew its blueprints, it continues to fight for the right to publish them online.

Seems kind of like a pointless fight to me, because in the short time before Defense Distributed withdrew its post, hundreds of other websites had copied it. They still host the blueprints.

Linsky hadn't realized that. When I showed some to him, he said, "I understand that some people might think that the genie is out of the bottle, but let's put as much of that genie back into the bottle as we possibly can."

But we can't put the genies back. Today, once information is out, it's out there forever. No government can pull it back.

Nevertheless, gun control advocates and the childish media will demand that "something be done!"

CNN warned, "Tomorrow morning, the sun will be shining, the birds will be singing and anyone will be able to legally download instructions to 3D-print their own fully functional plastic gun!"

I liked Blackman's response:

"That happened. The world's the same," he said. "People are just fear-mongering."


NEXT: So Much for the Anti-War President

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  1. “Rights were enshrined in the Constitution for permanence…. They’re there for the long haul.”

    If only someone had warned these lawmakers before they took that oath.

  2. Fist is still First. The looks have changed, but Fist is still First. My faith is restored.

    1. if we have printable plastic guns, where’s my fucking flying car?

      1. There’re called helicopters.


      2. The tech and a few actual purchasable products are out there. The problems is that government regulators insist on treating them as regular aircraft which means aside from being much more expensive than a regular car, you need a pilot’s license, which is much harder to get than a driver’s license, to actually use one.

  3. I’ll take a CNC Machine over a 3D printer any day. Time to load up my private armory with AR-15s, Bushmasters, 1911s, Glock 17s, and Sig P229s.

    The cool thing about making my own from 80% receivers is that the Feds won’t have a clue as to their existence, and the weapons will be 100% legal without serial numbers!

    1. Not sure why people come to public forums to humblebrag about 80% lowers like they’re some big secret. California is already forcing owners to serialize and register finished weapons, and the ATF already knows who the major sellers of 80% lowers are. Unless you’re buying all of your parts in person in cash, the Feds have a record of your transaction

      1. Personally, as I’m an engineer with machine shop experience, I’d go with a 0% lower. They’re not registering billets yet.

        If you do want one of those 80% lowers, buy one cash at a gun show. Probably not a good idea to leave a paper/bit trail if your goal is really a gun that can’t be tracked.

      2. Unless you’re buying all of your parts in person in cash, the Feds have a record of your transaction

        Unless you’ve got a militia on standby waiting for you to issue them their weapons (and maybe not even then) the guns and their tractability is a bit pointless. The Feds aren’t going to tell you they’re coming and when they’re gone, nobody except them is going to be checking the serial numbers wondering where your guns came from.

        I certainly don’t want people to stop making 80% lower receivers, but it’s not like some hidden cache of untraceable firearms is going to deter anybody from anything.

      3. An 80% lower is not considered a firearm by the ATF and therefore they do not track the sale of them. Second it is impossible for any government to force someone to “serialize” a weapon they do not know exists. Ghost guns are legal to own as long as you do not attempt to sell them or transfer them to others, even as a gift. They must remain in the possession of those who make them. Lastly, the ATF does not keep records of gun transactions because that is a violation of Federal law. Every recent gun law specifically prohibits the FBI, ATF or any other government agency from keeping records of gun sales for the very reason you cite. There is no gun registry database nor is there any gun part sales database.

        1. “Ghost guns are legal to own as long as you do not attempt to sell them or transfer them to others, even as a gift. They must remain in the possession of those who make them.”

          Just for the record, that isn’t true – and the ATF’s own printed FAQ books agreed. They have since weaseled to say you ‘should’ [1] put on a serial number, but the underlying law hasn’t changed.

          1)Many guns were made commercially w/o serial numbers in days gone by. I’ve bought them myself, at FFL’s, with NICS checks.
          2)Starting in 1968, *manufacturers* were required to use serial numbers (and other markings).
          3)A manufacturer is defined as someone *in the business* of making guns – and must have a manufacturer’s license.
          4)If unlicensed Joe Blow makes a gun in his basement *with the intent* of selling it, he is illegally manufacturing guns whether he puts on a serial number or not.
          5)If unlicensed Joe Blow makes a gun in his basement just to see if he can, without the intent of selling it, he’s not in the business, isn’t a manufacturer, and doesn’t have to put on any markings. If he later gets bored with the gun and wants to sell it, that’s perfectly legal.

          All that said, if you are making one gun after another and getting bored with them right after you finish them … you’ll get to explain it to the judge. The ‘in the business’ standard is similar to the one for selling any gun – if you buy a gun and get bored with it and sell it, no problem. If you see a gun at the gun store and think ‘Wow, that’s underpriced, I’ll buy it and flip it for a quick profit’, that’s not OK.

          [1]And they are right! You should put on a serial, for multiple reasons. It’s just not illegal if you don’t.

    2. Unless you’re referring to a 25mm chain gun, you sound a little silly talking about both AR-15s and Bushmasters.

      1. The whole post sounds silly.

        If you were 3D printing and already owned/carried a Glock/Sig, I can’t fathom why you wouldn’t just go with a more modern gun (like a Glock) that fires the .45 (and carries more than a single stack).

        It’s like you’re trying to say “I printed/milled this gun just yesterday. The same way Grandpa did before heading off to Omaha Beach.”

      2. A Bushmaster is an AR-15. Bushmaster is a brand name. An AR-15 is a type of rifle as well as a platform for other similar rifles.

    3. First, Bushmaster is a brand name, not a type of gun. Most commonly it is an AR-15. So from the start I question your comment because any gun owner would know this fact. Second, every pistol you reference is one often identified in any article about gun control. Again those are all brand names or in the case of the 1911, a platform used for 45 ACP. If you had said, “time to load up my armory with 45s, 9mms and 40 cal” or referenced the rifle calibers, I might believe you were an actual gun owner rather than simply someone attempting to make gun owners look crazy.

  4. What was lost in all the furor over this issue was the fact Wilson never said his 3D gun was practical or even useful. He was simply attempting to prove it is POSSIBLE. Gunpowder burns at over 1800 degrees. The plastic used for 3D printing melts at 368 degrees. That is your first issue. If you plan to do 3D metal printing, you will spend about $500k on a printer. That is unlikely when a criminal can buy a gun on the street for $1000-1500. This entire debate was exactly like the one on transgendered bathrooms. You have politicians rushing to pass laws to address something that has yet to become an issue. Democrats oppose the technology for one reason, it erases government control over one type of gun even though it is practically worthless.

  5. People like Linsky spout off about technology (3-d printing and the Internet) and they have no idea what they’re talking about.

  6. Back in the 1950s it was common to take blocks of wood, section of hi-press gas pipe, sheet metal, spring, nails or screws, and make zip guns smaller and more durable than that 3D printed plastic monstrosity.

    A lot to do over nothing, as Billy Bob Shakespeare once said.

    “Weapons of the American Underground” contained plans for a Sten-type submachine gun gun using home workshop tools and common materials (mostly plumbing and automotive) adaptable to use common pistol magazines. TheFirearmBlog periodically has reports on craft (do-it-yourself) weapons recovered in Sweden, Israel, India, Brasil, Australia, and elsewhere built by small workshops.

    Bans create black markets, more crime not less. Why anyone would want to do to guns what failed with alcohol and marihuana is hard to believe.

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