Why Gun Bans Won’t Work – A Technical Perspective

By Cranky Buddha

I’ve participated in a number of arguments and discussions on the effectiveness of increased gun control laws, up to and including outright gun bans. Mostly they revolve around statistics, studies and comparisons of various places that have such laws with those that don’t. In some cases the complete ineffectiveness of prohibiting things like alcohol and marijuana is also used as an argument against gun laws. There’s plenty of information out there on the number of defensive gun uses every year and lives they save. These arguments are, at best, ineffective and quite possibly counterproductive if the point is to save lives and reduce violent crime. But there’s a simple and important side of this debate that almost everyone on both sides of this issue is missing — the technology aspect . . .

The last significant change in firearms technology was the use of “advanced” materials such as aluminum and plastics, almost 60 years ago. The magazine fed semi-automatic has been around for over one hundred 100 years. The metallic cartridge is over 150 years old. Hand-held firearms have been around for well over 600 years and the technology of gunpowder was documented by the Chinese over 1000 years ago. So there’s nothing really new under the sun when it comes to firearms technology.

In fact, anyone with basic metalworking tools available from most hardware stores and plans that are freely available on the Internet can make magazine fed, fully automatic firearms (yes, machine guns) in their garage. Don’t believe me?  Late last year Australian authorities arrested man for doing just that.

Back alley gunsmiths from Cebu City, Philippines and Darra Adam Khel, Pakistan have been producing exact copies of just about any firearm you might want with little more than hand tools for almost 100 years.

After Dunkirk the British needed to replace the firearms lost during the evacuation. They needed something that could be made quickly and cheaply in small workshops and garages that were more difficult to disrupt by air attack than large factories. The result of this need was the STEN submachine gun.  Around 4 million STENs were made, many of them in small workshops in German occupied countries including Poland, Norway and Denmark.

Modern technology is poised on the brink of a major revolution in manufacturing and product distribution that will also have a direct impact on the effectiveness of firearms restrictions. Computers, coupled with “3D” printers, could make the manufacture and distribution of many items as simple downloading music or books from the Internet. A purchased item would be downloaded in the form of a specific file type that’s then sent to the 3D printer which makes the object within a few minutes or hours. While this technology is currently still in its infancy, it’s maturing rapidly. It’s already possible to download a free file and “print” a 30-round magazine for an AR-15 or M16.

The AR was designed to be a modular weapon. That means removing a couple of pins allows me to change out the upper portion of the weapon quickly and easily. This is one of the key reasons for the current popularity of the AR. One rifle can be converted quickly and easily to different calibers and tasks. The same rifle came be converted from a home defense rifle to a .22LR plinker to a hunting rifle in minutes.

Because of this modularity, the lower receiver is the only part to carry a serial number. The lower is the part that’s considered to be the firearm, legally speaking. The same organization that makes the file for the printable magazine available is testing a lower receiver for the AR platform.

Files to print other parts of the firearm are also under development.

The bottom line is that gun technology is very old and not particularly complicated. It takes little more than some basic skills and equipment to manufacture high quality, magazine-fed firearms. While legitimate commercial manufactures are limited to selling semi-automatic firearms to civilians, should gun manufacturing go underground it’s at least as easy, if not easier, for a shade tree gunsmith to build fully automatic firearms — machine guns — instead.

Emerging technologies will allow individuals to “print” component parts for firearms with little more effort than printing a letter. Will law-abiding citizens engage in these activities?  Most won’t. Will criminals? Of course.

So, ultimately, the only possible outcome of gun control is the disarmament law abiding citizens; leaving guns in the hands of the criminals and the government.

A version of this article originally appeared at Notes From a Cranky Buddha and is reprinted here with permission.

51 Responses to Why Gun Bans Won’t Work – A Technical Perspective

  1. avatarCrazed Java says:

    The technology aspect never escaped me. Any ban on technology is doomed to fail. Banning 30 round mags is like trying to ban iPhones. Napster may be dead, but digital downloads are not. Technology marches on.

    I do get irritated by the ignorance of others though. “Why do you need a semiautomatic?” is a silly question. Semiautos have been around forever and yet somehow we have not committed genocide with them. I remember the church was concerned the crossbow would wipe out mankind or the widespread fear that the lever action rifle was too dangerous a tool for an individual to have.

  2. avatarAccur81 says:

    I think that is perhaps the best argument against gun control. It is not possible to eliminate criminal access to firearms. Therefore, the only balanced and intelligent approach is to recognize the rights of responsible citizens to keep and bear arms. We have seen what happens when only the bad guys has guns. Tragedy. Whether it be at the individual level such as Aurora or Newtown, the goverent level such as Mexico, or in a tyranical regime such as Nazi German y, history shows us that gun control does not work. I challenge anyone to report when gun control has advanced freedom or individual safety.

    Unfortunately, most members of our current ruling class are willfully ignorant of history and common sense.

    • avatarBryan says:

      “Unfortunately, most members of our current ruling class are willfully ignorant of history and common sense.”

      And the rest are purposely/deliberately ignorant.

    • avatarWilliam says:

      “Unfortunately, most members of our current ruling class are willfully ignorant of history and common sense.”

      “Willfully” being the operative term. Yes indeed, people will bend beliefs to suit nefarious purposes. Or nefarious porpoises.

      If my one child had been a son, I wanted to name him “Ants”, after the Latin American (obscure, to be sure) poet, Ants Riego. Which sounds like something you’d order at an African restaurant.

      My second choice was “Sten”. I wish I had one. My shop skills reached their pinnacle with a tie rack for my dad.

  3. avatarThomas Paine says:

    building firearms is awesome, and it’s the main reason why guns bans will never work. Furthermore, we already have an estimated gazillion guns in citizen possession, and probably half a gazillion in criminal possession.
    Firearms have a long life, and are very very very durable. Musket from 1790 anyone?
    Here is the point:
    -i could drive about .8 miles, and buy whatever gun i want on the street, as long as i have the cash or proper item to trade. You’d be surprised at what these dudes have to offer.
    -i could drive said .8 miles, and RENT a firearm. Maybe $25 or $50 bucks depending on who i know, and length of rental time. Or maybe the person doing the renting is willing to split the cake after I do my burglary. That way, i don’t have to put any money up front.
    -i could pick up Nancy the Trick Without Felonies, and get her to go to LGS, and have her buy whatever I want, and pay her $50 for her labors.
    -I could watch RF’s house, wait till he leaves for National Resistance Day on 2/23, and burglarize him. I’d get tons of money for those rifles on the street, and i could trade for concealable handguns. Hell, i’d convert the AKs to full-auto, because if i’m going to have an illegal gun, might as well DO IT RIGHT.

    The point IS – There is a huge black market economy for illegal guns. As long as law abiding people have ANY guns, and they can be STOLEN, the only people being hurt from gun restrictions are the LAW ABIDING.

    I beleive that there is simply nothing you can do to prevent criminals from getting firearms, and if they are ALL confiscated, they will be built, in which the scenario repeats, ad naseum.
    *disclaimer, i would never do the things above, just proving a point. And sorry to shout with using all caps, but whatever.

    • avatarCrazed Java says:

      Bob Owens has also pointed out that there may be more automatic weapons in private possession that reported simply because a maintained gun doesn’t really wear out.

      I suspect if they could ban the AR-15, a lot of them would also “vanish”.

      Government is largely unaware of its own impotence.

    • avatarMark N. says:

      No no no, they’ve figured out how to keep guns from being stolen, didn’t you hear? They are going to criminalize the failure to properly secure your firearms and the failure to report their loss or theft within 24 hours. Since everyon will be too aftraind to buy guns lest it result in them going to prison, there won’t be any gus to steal!

    • avatarWilliam says:

      Nevertheless, they will TRY TRY TRY, and they blow and they will blow, thinking our house will come down.

      NOT BY THE HAIR OF MY CHINNY CHIN CHIN.

      Which is where some really is.

  4. avatarJim Barrett says:

    This is an excellent analysis of the situation. I might add that we also have a historical example of just this sort of thing happening. During Prohibition, there were many sources of homemade liquor – “Bathtub Gin” and that sort of thing that was smuggled to and sold through speakeasies despite massive government attempts to stop it. This in turn created a whole underground industry, caused a fair amount of violence and made some folks very rich

    My only thought is that at the moment, I’d say it takes more than some basic knowledge to construct a working firearm that I’d really trust. I’m a reasonably competent woodworker, but wouldn’t know where to get started building a gun out of metals. On the other hand, as CNC machining continues its march towards cheap and easy to run, I definitely see the day where punching out a gun will involve little more than loading some material and pushing a button.

  5. avatarjoe says:

    This is the great shell game… they started the discussion to prevent crazy people and mass murderers, when they realized that conversation was dying out they changed it to criminals and innocent children dying, when that fails they will change it again… the conversation is about a multi-level class system with the ruling class having weapons and barring it from the serfs… its not about criminals. We need to keep pushing the point that if it is good enough for law enforcement and political bodyguards its good enough for our families

  6. avatarRKflorida says:

    Self defense for law abiding citizens is vulnerable in one big area, ammunition. Not so easy to make. Smokeless powder and primers are well beyond what can be home-made. I see the true freedom when we have weapons that don’t depend on conventional ammunition. Perhaps the “Gauss Rifle” used in science fiction stories.

    • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      No, they’re not. They’re beyond what can be made at home in quantity, but making cases, bullets and so on for a straight-walled case like a .45 ACP, .45 Colt or .45-70 is actually easy: all you need is brass bar stock and a lathe. Done deal.

      Smokeless powder isn’t difficult to make – making a particular burning rate of smokeless powder is difficult, but making gun cotton isn’t difficult. Making black powder is a bit more difficult, but still easily enough done, and black powder doesn’t even need commercial chemical reagents to manufacture. Just horse piss and good quality charcoal. Add some sulphur if you’re going to use it to prime a pan.

      Making primers a bit less easy, but they too are not impossible. We just might have to spend more time cleaning weapons. Go study up on what it took to make percussion caps 150 years ago.

      The problem is that people THINK it impossible… because they didn’t spend enough time in shop class.

    • avatar16V says:

      There’s dozens of ways to move projectiles at high velocity without using gunpowder.

      High pressure, high power airguns have been with us for almost 400 years. They are only slightly more complicated to fabricate than a 12ga zipgun. One can take large game with those things.

      • avatarWilliam says:

        There’s airguns that can bring down BIG GAME! I actually didn’t know this until maybe a week ago. Wow!!!

        Maybe we should all be backing things up with super air guns and crossbows. Them crossbows are REALLY quiet, too.

        NOT BY THE HAIR OF MY CHINNY CHIN CHIN!!

    • avatarmountocean says:

      That was my first thought when I read this, too. Ammo ban. My second thought was War on Drugs. And thanks Dyspeptic for reminding us that in the same way we’re not reliant upon the govt for our protection, we’re not (completely) reliant upon big manufacturing for our tools.

  7. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    The nut of the issue is that most of the people proposing and advocating bans of this, that or some other thing are invariably lawyers and other scribblers of ill regard and worse intent, ie, people who could and would kill themselves if left alone in a shop with nothing more than a claw hammer and a phillips screwdriver. They’re complete retards where mechanical skills are concerned, and they think that their silly laws on paper are the be-all, end-all of any argument. In the pithy appraisal of one of my mentors, “They’re so stupid, they could f*&^ up a perfectly good anvil.”

    Decades of being the “cool” people, pretty of face, slick of argument, glib of tongue but deficient in any tangible accomplishments has deceived these people into thinking that what they do ultimately matters.

    Laws are respected by only those who wish to obey them, and history teaches us well that once a man has had his sensibilities offended far enough, he ceases to obey laws. This we know from the writings of the Romans, Machiavelli and many others throughout history. In particular, we who are students of history know that laws that forbid the ownership and use of weapons were considered by statesmen and philosophers as being the worst at breeding contempt among the population. Once the officer holders have bred contempt into the population, there is no way to restore it – short of revolution or civil war. That too is learned from history. Civilization is a thin veneer, once stripped off it is not easily or cheaply restored.

    As to making guns: The barrel is the tough part to manufacture in an improvised situation, but it can be done, especially for handguns. The idea that anyone could prevent manufacture of guns in shops all over the US is pure intellectual onanism. Here’s an example of a lathe built in a Japanese-run POW camp by Brit prisoners in WWII:

    http://machineshop.olin.edu/resources/documents/Prison%20Camp%20Lathe.pdf

    Once you have a lathe, it’s downhill from there. The little lathe described above could be used to make pistols quite easily. A simple blow-back semi-auto pistol is fiendishly easy to make. Look at a Hi-Point semi-auto sometime. Sure, it’s not the quality that people might want to carry now – but in a world where guns are banned, the man holding a Hi-Point is king of his mound. It would be foolishly easy to make something similar to a Hi-Point – it’s just cast Zamak with little bits of steel in various springs, pins and parts.

    • avatarBrad says:

      “Civilization is a thin veneer, once stripped off it is not easily or cheaply restored.”

      Well said. I can name more than a few places that have descended into chaos from once being a beacon of progress. One of those is not Mogadishu.

      • avatar16V says:

        “Civilization is a thin veneer…”

        That quote has been used here more than once over the last several years. Glad you finally heard it…

    • avatarAharon says:

      Thanks! #1

    • avatarWilliam says:

      One of the greatest posts I’ve ever read here. Nicely done. Did anyone ever tell you you have mad writing skills? Are you a published author, because something tells me you are.

  8. avatarST says:

    This article reinforces an inconvenient truth: the government can no more ban guns then it can ban the sunrise.

    Weed is illegal, but most of us can still get it.
    Prostitution is illegal, but that’s not hard to find either.
    Speeding’s illegal too, but ill bet the Interstate’s full of lawbreakers right now.
    Ban guns, and ………..nothing changes. We gunnys just comment on the govt. stupidity in person on the QT instead of on public forums.

  9. avatarDon Curton says:

    The comparison to drug war is apt when one considers that marijuana is a weed that grows wild through the country.

    Furthermore, the “gun” you build in a garage doesn’t necessarily have to be all that good. The WWII Liberator was a single shot .45 caliber pistol manufactured with the idea that you only need one well placed bullet in order to secure a better weapon.

    The ideal design would be a single shot, pipe barrel, 12 ga weapon. All you need is one or two rounds of 12 ga and the rest is easy and cheap.

  10. avatargloomhound says:

    It’s even easier than that to make a gun to get a better gun…

    http://youtu.be/7Va87gB_4AI
    and
    http://youtu.be/Rh0SXBtT_lA

    By the way I am NOT the guy in the first video despite the scary similar appearance.

  11. avatarAharon says:

    Thank you Cranky Buddah. I like your online name.

    “ultimately, the only possible outcome of gun control is the disarmament law abiding citizens; leaving guns in the hands of the criminals and the government.” Another possible outcome are for many current law abiding citizens to become non-law abiding citizens of unconstitutional laws.

    To effectively use a gun it must have ammunition. If ammunition manufacture and distribution is controlled or banned along with access to what are currently legal and available (when not out of stock) re-loading equipment and supplies, then what? I’ve read a few articles on making guns at home yet none on how to make ammo casings, bullets, and powder when you cannot buy those materials through a retail operation.

  12. avatardaveR says:

    Why will bans not “work”? We should not be telling ourselves such lies. Bans will most likely work, and work well (at least as long as people fear the consequences of violating a total ban more than they fear the consequences of not having a gun)

    NFA weapons prove the point–they’re so expensive and so tightly regulated that they’re as close to being illegal as something legal can be. NFA devices are rarely used in crimes and most of us here bend over backwards to distance ourselves from condoning ANY firearm modifications that may impinge on NFA territory.

    Sure, the knowledge is out there for anyone to manufacture a silencer, chop off a rifle bbl to less than 16″ or to fashion a full auto sear…but most people agree to agree that the benefits of doing any of these things do not justify the risk of ending up in the Federal Pen.

    • avatarAnonymous says:

      > most people agree to agree that the benefits of
      > doing any of these things do not justify the risk
      > of ending up in the Federal Pen.

      Fear of the Federal Pen is mightier than our words.

      • avatarST says:

        Naturally this statement is unverifiable due to being a violation of Federal statute,but I’m certain there’s thousands of undocumented full auto and short barreled weapons which quietly sit in the safes of ethical gun owners all over the country.If a lone man brings his AR pistol into the forest and attaches a foregrip,who’s the wiser?

        • avatarHasdrubal says:

          How many AK-47s were brought home from Vietnam in foot lockers as trophies and nwver reported to anyone? How many Stens have be made from de-militarized parts kits and hidden in attics? More than a few, I’m sure.

      • avatarAnonymous says:

        > If a lone man brings his AR pistol into the forest
        > and attaches a foregrip,who’s the wiser?

        If you shoot a gun in the woods with an illegal silencer and nobody hears it, has a crime been committed?

    • avatarjwm says:

      When times are “Normal” DaveR that’s true enough. But these ain’t normal times.

    • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      In Mexico, they have a pretty comprehensive prohibition on guns.

      Ain’t no shortage of guns in Mexico, and as much as they’d like to carp and whine about the number coming from the US, the fact is, the full-auto hardware isn’t being muled over the border. That’s being sold out from their own police and military armories and comes in from South America.

      There’s a lot of nations south of the border with strict firearms control.

      You notice, however, it doesn’t seem to matter.

      The central assumption of gun banners is that Americans will obey the law.

      People who are well read in this area of study know that societies reach a tipping point, where the law no longer gets respect, it’s simply a nuisance and cost of doing business.

      As is evidenced from Wall Street’s behavior, the well-heeled in the US now believe this is true. The contempt with which liberals like to treat certain aspects of the law are now the stuff of the daily news (especially things like illegal immigration), and there’s actually only certain segments of the US society that still respect the law as a principle and expected behavior.

      Ban guns and that segment of society no longer will respect the law. Third world, here we come.

      • avatarTommy Knocker says:

        Yup good point on tippin point. Just my studies but read up on the Sicilian Mafia. Folks had enough of cruel brutal govt. Out comes a parallel societal force. Whether good or bad its part of nature.

      • avatarAnonymous says:

        > the law no longer gets respect, it’s simply a nuisance
        > and cost of doing business.
        > As is evidenced from Wall Street’s behavior, the well-
        > heeled in the US now believe this is true.

        That sounds like some smelly-Occupy-hippie talk, there. Every right-thinking person knows that the banks didn’t do nothin’ wrong.

    • avatarg says:

      Full-auto NFA weapons are rarely used in crimes, but plenty of sawed off shotties and SBRs are routinely seized by cops. It’s not the know-how isn’t out there… it’s just that your average criminal doesn’t possess the intelligence and resources to mod his weapon to full auot.

      In the infamous 1997 North Hollywood shootout that later inspired the movie HEAT, the robbers used illegally modified AR-15 / AKM rifles:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Hollywood_shootout

      • avatarjwm says:

        g, if I remember correctly the modified guns in the North Hollywood shootout malfunctioned at least once during the rampage. I remember when the walking bandit threw away his ak style gun and pulled a pistol which was just before his end.

        Druggies modifying semi auto to full auto are probably not QC conscious at their work.

        • avatarg says:

          Yep… that’s why I laugh at the “horror” of the cheap-crap 60 / 100 round mags that have problems feeding as reliably as a standard mag.

          Another little known fact about the shoot-out: despite the bank robbers use of “assault” rifles, there was no civilian massacre – the exchange in gunfire resulted in many people wounded (mostly cops), and 2 fatalities – the robbers.

  13. avatarTommy Knocker says:

    Does zip gun ring a bell? Yea its not sophisticated but kids in urban gangs in post war America made them go bang. Or Liberator pistol. Anyone who owns a Moisin Nagant realizes how simple a powerful weapon can be. Half dozen components to the bolt and same with the go pedal. The govt can NEVER put the genie back in the bottle.

  14. avatarDave Lewis says:

    Read up on the guerilla movement in the Phillippines during WW2. Slambang shotguns (two pieces of black iron pipe, a pipe cap, a nail for a firing pin and a reloaded shotgun shell) – not pretty but they worked. Reloaded rifle ammunition using pieces of brass curtain rod for bullets and salvaged unexploded bomb or naval mine powder for propellant with strike anywhere match head primers. Dangerous? Of course but those old Arikasa rifles were pretty much indestructable. One round of the bad stuff could get you 60 rounds of good stuff and another rifle too.

    If you argue that guerilla forces are only a minor irritant to a full time army with artillery and aircraft you need to go back and read some history. Large sections of the Balkans and the Phillippines were pretty much independent of Axis control prior to the Allied troops moving back in. Both the Germans and the Japanese were too stretched for manpower and resources to exercise tight control on remote areas.

    Just sayin…

    • avatarg says:

      Filipino guerrilla movements never really died, when you think about it… from the Spanish occupation, to the American takeover, to WW2… and then you have modern day AQ-affiliated Abu Sayyaf and the MILF.

      Never underestimate the will of a human being to create the tools they need to fight…

  15. avatarJerryboy says:

    well if criminals can make garage guns, so can Patriots.

    • avatarWilliam says:

      “But it would be wrong.”

      ANYTHING in defense of life, liberty and happiness cannot be wrong.

      • avatarjwm says:

        Exactly. When otherwise law abiding citizens feel the need to garage worksop guns together who’s at fault here? The church going, job holding, family building citizen or the over bearing, repressive Gov?

  16. avatarT-DOG says:

    All I need to know about how useless gun bands are was left in a comment at the bottom of the article about the Australian homemade guns. The commenter said
    “And my registered bolt action rifle is still the main weapon used in drive-by’s and the leading cause of violence in West Sydney… We had better take all the sporting firearms off LAFOs so criminals stop making sub-machine guns and pistols.
    Bobby on 04-Dec-12 09:40 AM”

  17. avatarDr. Mike says:

    For those members of TTAG that like interesting pictures of homemade guns there is a blog called IMPRO GUNS that i regularly check out. It has really fascinating pictures of weapons confiscated from all over the world. It does not update that frequently but is a good way to waste 20 minutes here and there.

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