• 3D Printer
    Image via Keith Kissel @ Flickr

3D printed guns to make gun control impossible

Last year, an American man created a gun partially made from his 3D printer. And by doing so, he uncovered a new realm of possibilities: it might not be long before guns are can be produced in private homes.

What about regulation then? Currently, plastic guns in the United States are illegal under the Undetectable Firearms Act as the metal detectors are unable to recognize plastic. The amendment to this Act was renewed in 2013. However, this renewal did not cover the availability of 3D printing technology.

Congressman Steve Israel says he wants to introduce legislation that would ban plastic guns such as those made from a printer. Conversely as reported by Forbes Magazine, Israel’s ban is not clear: “Plastic and polymer high capacity magazines are already common, and aren’t currently covered by the current Undetectable Firearms law. So it would seem Israel would need to distinguish between those plastic magazines and 3D printable ones, or ban possession of all non-metal high-capacity magazines outright.”

The congressman says he is not trying to regulate Internet or 3D printing use — merely the mass manufacture of plastic guns. He says he is concerned that gun enthusiasts could print a lower receiver for their weapon. The lower receiver holds the mechanical parts of the gun, which include the trigger holding and bolt carrier.  That part has the gun’s serial number, which is the federally regulated aspect of the device. So a gun could realistically be created without the government’s knowledge or ability to police the weapon. 

In an interview with Forbes, Israel explains his legislation: “No one’s trying to interfere with people’s access to the Internet. We're just trying to make it more difficult for an individual to make a homemade gun in his or her basement…you want to download the blueprint, we're not going near that. You want to buy a 3D printer and make something, buy a 3D printer and make something. But if you're going to download a blueprint for a plastic weapon that can be brought onto an airplane, there’s a penalty to be paid.”

Israel says he plans to specifically include 3D printed gun components as part of the Undetectable Firearms Act, a law that bans the possession of any weapon can pass through a metal detector. However the Defense Distributed disagrees. This pro-gun organization believes that it is an American right to own, operate and now build a firearm. And they’ve done so. Cody Wilson, leader of Defense Distributed and a law student at Texas University, says that the group’s goal is to oust gun regulations in America and the world.


Wilson and his comrades posted a YouTube video of themselves shooting a Colt M-16 firearm, which they claim was made mostly from a 3D printer. The video has been viewed more than 240,000 times. Defense Distributed has also organized the Wiki Weapon Project, which aims to distribute downloadable blueprints for homemade guns.

Posted onto their website and speaking to the Huffington Post, The Wiki Weapon Project purports to challenge the United States Government and its gun laws. They posted their opposition to government regulation on their website: “How do governments behave if they must one day operate on the assumption that any and every citizen has near instant access to a firearm through the Internet? Let’s find out.”

Defense Distributed emphasizes that if people want to shoot guns, they will shoot guns, and that it is their right to do so. For the people that get hurt along the way, they are sorry. “There’s nothing that you can say to a grieving parent, but that’s still no reason to be quiet. I don’t lose my rights because someone is a criminal,” Wilson told Digitaltrends.com.

“People say you're going to allow people to hurt people, well, that’s one of the sad realities of liberty. People abuse freedom,” the Texas University law student told digitaltrends.com in another interview. “But that’s no excuse not to have these rights or to feel good about someone taking them away from you.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Israel was quoted calling Wilson’s project “fundamentally irresponsible.” Even so, manufacturing a gun out of one’s home is not a new idea. In fact, gun lovers have been making their own guns for years and it has not been deemed illegal. Ginger Colburn, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms told The Economist that “pens, books, belts, clubs -- you name it -- people have turned it into a firearm.”


Some policy makers and anti-gun vocalists claim that 3D printed guns will lead to rampant, widespread use of the weapon, which in turn will lead to rampant, widespread violence. Cue Helen Lovejoy’s, “somebody think of the children!”

But Wilson says that if somebody really wants a gun, they will find a gun, whether it’s illegal or not. “I don't see any empirical evidence that access to guns increases the rate of violent crime. If someone wants to get their hands on a gun, they'll get their hands on a gun,” he told Forbes. “This opens a lot of doors. Any advance in technology has posed these questions. It’s not clear-cut that this is just a good thing. But liberty and responsibility are scary.” 

While it might be unsettling to know that anyone can download and print a gun, Michael Weinberg, an attorney for Public Knowledge, a non-profit organization that focuses on the public’s access to information and internet, believes that preventing gun control is ineffective. Weinberg fears sloppy regulation over 3D printing more than readily accessible guns.

“When you have a general purpose technology, it will be used for things you don't want people to use it for. That doesn't mean it’s wrong or illegal. I won’t use my 3D printer to make a weapon, but I'm not going to crusade against people who would do that,” he told Forbes. In the same story, he also points out that a plastic gun would be less effective than a metal one. However, so long as the plastic gun can shoot a bullet at warp speed, it seems to be effective enough.

Printing in 3D is a very expensive technology. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that one machine can cost anywhere between $9,000 to $600,000. And yet, computers were also expensive at one point. It’s safe to say that this technology is a game-changer and it is likely that one day it will be a common household item.

And the problem remains: Vow to stop criminals from making guns? Congressman Israel says he believes he has the solution to this problem. He says he is not treading on anyone’s liberties while trying to protect public safety. But until 3D printing becomes more widespread, Israel is merely shooting in the dark.


Some policy makers and anti-gun vocalists claim that 3D printed guns will lead to rampant, widespread use of the weapon, which in turn will lead to rampant, widespread violence.

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