Friday, 01 February 2013 15:26

3D Printing of Guns at Home Making Gun Grabbers Nervous

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When the New York Times wrote of the improved technology of 3D printing this writer responded with a frivolous blog about it, scoring the concerns of anti-gun people about how the technology will allow everyone who wants one to have a gun without government oversight or knowledge. One of those in the anti-gun camp is Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, who said that 3D printing is “going to be a big concern. We don’t know how that’s going to come about and don’t know what technology.”

That technology is evolving before his very eyes. The RepRap Project aims to produce free and open source software for 3D printers, including software that allows the printer to produce its own parts. Two years ago RepRap allowed printers to create tiny plastic parts for small motors as well as circuit boards for computers. Today it allows hobbyists to build household items like fully-functional clocks, flashlights, iPad cases, watchbands … and receivers for rifles.

And it is this virtual explosion in technology that is making other gun controllers increasingly nervous, including Mark Gibbs, a contributor at Forbes, who wrote,

I’m in favor of tighter gun control and a ban on weapons that are unnecessarily powerful but I’m afraid that technology will soon make any legislation that limits the availability of any kinds of guns ineffective.

With the decrease in prices for 3D printers, and the improvement in the software to drive them, the capability to print weapons at home is coming into the reach of the average citizen. Gibbs warned,

Using either free or low cost computer aided drafting software you can create digital 3D models of pretty much anything you can think of and, with hardly any fuss, your 3D printer will render them as physical objects.

And when that happens, there will be more guns, not fewer, and the government won’t know where they are or how to track them:

What’s particularly worrisome is that the capability to print metal and ceramic parts will appear in low end printers in the next few years making it feasible to print an entire gun and that will be when gun control becomes a totally different problem.

Gibbs is already behind the times. In December, Dan Verton noted on that “the time is fast approaching when anybody with a few thousand dollars … can design and manufacture their own guns.” He corrected himself, adding, “Actually, that time has already arrived.”

Anti-gun legislators are getting nervous as well. The introduction of the Glock pistol into the United States in 1982, with its polymer construction, caused some legislators to go ballistic. They suggested that such pistols would escape being detected at airports. It didn't take long for legislation to follow, with the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 passing both houses of congress and being signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in November of that year. It had a 10-year sunset clause, but in 2003 it was reauthorized for another ten years with a sunset date of December 9, 2013. That law makes it illegal to “manufacture … [or] possess … any firearm that is not detectable by walk-through metal detectors.”

In December Congressman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), a leading supporter of making that law permanent, held a press conference just outside the security checkpoint at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport. He said that the House needs to renew the law because

It is just a matter of time before these three-dimensional printers will be able to replicate an entire gun. And that firearm will be able to be brought through this security line, through the metal detector, and because there will be no metal to be detected, firearms will be brought on planes without anyone’s knowledge.

Israel sports just an 11-percent Freedom Index rating and a zero-percent rating from both the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America, while enjoying a 100 percent rating from both the Brady Campaign and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. And so while his rant against guns pushes the envelope of believability that scanners’ technology won’t also improve to the point where 3D weapons can be detected, it also misses another point: There is no way that receivers — the part of the weapon that holds the internal workings such as the trigger and safety mechanisms — can be traced if they are made at home, as they lack the serial numbers that legislators like to track in order to keep an eye on their subjects.

All of which brings back the main point made in the original “frivolous” comments made by this writer earlier: Without such tracking, how can the government enforce its increasingly onerous and draconian attempts to regulate and eventually confiscate weapons from law abiding citizens? Will it want to register 3D printers? But how will that work, exactly, especially when the printers can replicate themselves? Like the brooms in Goethe's poem The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the printers will multiply in such numbers as to simply overwhelm attempts by gun control legislators like Israel to control them. Where the motivation is sufficient, citizens will find a way to exercise their freedoms, and all that increasing pressure from government will do is hasten the process.

Photo of 3D printer on display at International Consumer Electronics Show Jan. 10 in Las Vegas: AP Images

 A graduate of Cornell University and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American and blogs frequently at, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


  • Comment Link Todd Sunday, 03 February 2013 17:02 posted by Todd

    If they’re talking about a stereo-lithograph apparatus, the technology has been around for a while. They’re basically just a 3 axis ink jet printer that prints layer over layer of something similar to UV curable ink. Engineers use them to make 3d plastic representations of the part they want to better visualize for fit and interference, such as manifolds and pipes on an engine. I don’t use them, but, as far as I know, they don’t print metal parts, and even if they could, the laminations would likely be too weak for the high 3000+ psi chamber pressure. It would seem to me that plastic wouldn’t do well either, for anything other than a potato cannon. Barrels get very hot after a few rounds. Seems like the plastics would melt, or at least weaken enough to cause a chamber rupture or barrel flare-out. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, but I’d like to see a completely plastic pistol, chamber, barrel, and all, come out of an SLA and be able to discharge a single 15 round mag before it blows apart. It could be that I’m not up on the latest advances in this technology but, off hand, I’m skeptical that this is a danger to worry about.

    I design machines for a living. All you need is a Bridgeport, a few tools, jigs or fixtures, a set of plans, and a little machining know-how, and you can pretty much make anything, even in large quantities. It would be very easy for anyone to buy turbo-cad or similar home grade modeling software at staples, and with a little mechanical know-how or inclination, design a weapon, and then send each individual part to a different machine shop for mfg, or make it yourself. It will happen, there’s no stopping it, especially if and when the BM sees the feasibility and profit to be made (as if they’d actually need to make guns - they can get all they need from Russia or China). The bigger challenge would be to get gun powder for the rounds. Any purchase of the raw materials will likely be tracked.

  • Comment Link R Jensen Saturday, 02 February 2013 15:32 posted by R Jensen

    “the time is fast approaching when anybody with a few thousand dollars … can design and manufacture their own guns.”

    OH JOY!!

  • Comment Link Forrest Higgs Saturday, 02 February 2013 00:31 posted by Forrest Higgs

    Good article.

    I spent six years on the core team of the Reprap project that started the personal 3D printer revolution. The effects that the author of this piece outlines and our coercive political class bemoans were exactly the goals that the Reprap project envisioned.

    All that political movements create is more politicians. All that laws create is more lawyers who create even more laws in order to stay profitably employed. Technology, otoh, has created more real social change than all political movements, lawyers and laws combined.

    Personal 3D printing technology is having and will continue to have profound effects on how and by who innovations are created. They are already massively decreasing the capital costs of setting up new manufacturing enterprises in much the same way that the introduction of gasoline engined tractors destroyed the huge corporate farms in the late 19th century Dakotas the scale of which was made necessary by steam powered farm equipment. Within two decades huge corporate farming enterprises employing thousands of employees each were replaced by much smaller family farms made possible by gasoline tractors. This is the power of disruptive technologies like personal 3D printers.

    It is important to know that the sort of people who made Reprap possible are presently going on to create other equally disruptive technologies. Expect them to have profound effects on the established economic players that finance our political class.

    A reckoning is coming.

  • Comment Link Peggy Finch Friday, 01 February 2013 19:39 posted by Peggy Finch

    I want a 3D printer for Valentine's Day!!

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