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Solid Concepts 1911 DMLS (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

A TTAG reader writes:

“I’m attending a small private gathering and the head of MIT’s fab lab (3d printing, molecular machines, etc) replied to a comment about whether it will affect guns on the black market. He said no, because people have been building guns for hundreds of years already and they are available on every street corner. As such, that need is already met and 3D printers will be used to fill another need. It was quite a surprise to hear that from MIT.”

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  1. MIT is not like other schools they pretty much only care about the science and numbers

    • Hmmm… fields which are defined and driven strictly by the numbers, perhaps; but if there’s any wiggle room in there, as with economics, then even MIT can succumb to sacrificing science on the alter of political ideology. See Jonathan Gruber. If it’s a field not associated with numbers at all, like linguistics, then it’s no holds barred. Think Noam Chomsky.

      There are some solid academics at MIT, inside and outside of the strict numbers fields; but it’s too broad a brush to suggest the institution is purely a “just the facts, ma’am” tower of integrity across the board.

  2. Awesome. Someone who’s actually intelligent, as opposed to the stereotypical ivory tower elitist who is willfully ignorant about guns.

    • I wouldn’t go that far. The “head of MIT’s fab lab” may understand the truth but that doesn’t mean academia is going to embrace the truth.

  3. Yeah. I’ve made the comment before, but I’ll make it again. You don’t need a super advance manufacturing facility to make guns. There’s videos of guys in Pakistan making guns sitting on dirt floors.

      • It is exceedingly easy and cheap to make a shotgun or a handgun with parts available at any good hardware store.

        Granted, those are going to be single shot firearms without rifled barrels but who cares if you are a criminal who wants to rob someone?

        And any small machine shop can make any firearm. Even garage workshops with basic machine tools can make just about any firearm.

    • This is like the popular mechanics article not too long ago. Nerds are all about their brains, they would never sink into the language trap of the modern gun ban movement. The second one of them refers to a magazine as an “assault clip,” or some other nonsense, they will lose credibility with THEMSELVES.

      *sorry meant as new comment

    • That’s the cottage industry in Peshawar. They make copies of virtually any firearm by hand, including 1911s, M9s and the H&K G3/Cetme series.

  4. A university that teaches facts, science, and imparts knowledge without resorting to insane, subjective bias to fill an agenda?! This will never do in the New America!

  5. I wouldn’t claim it’s “MIT” so much as the individual student. Usually in universities, from what I understand, you don’t end up with the insane hard leftism that you get in the liberal arts schools in the engineering and hard sciences schools. I’m not saying they are all conservative, but more open to reason and logic than the others.

  6. Not every smart guy is an idiot. Both of my older brothers are highly intelligent. One has a doctorate-one is rich. One is a gun guy. The other is an ultra leftwing jerk who hates guns and moved back to America just to vote for Odumbo(really!) I guess it means one can’t stereotype or generalize…

    • Have you ever heard of the “Stray Cosmic Ray” Theory in in Computer Science or Genetics?

  7. Without knowing the full context of the question and his answer, it’s tough to judge, but I don’t follow his apparent logic. It’s like saying that power drills won’t be used to build cabinets, because hand-crank drills are already being used to do that, or that DVDs won’t be used to distribute movies, because VHS tapes are already filling that niche.

    It’s true that homemade guns have been available for as long as there have been guns, and that will continue regardless of the existence/availability of 3D printing. But I find it hard to believe that the technology won’t be used for that purpose, too (if that’s what he’s saying here). Once it’s cheap and reliable enough, of course it will be used to produce guns, both legally and illegally. Why wouldn’t it be? Just because someone with a machine shop and some basic raw materials can make a gun doesn’t preclude someone with a 3D printer from doing it, too.

    It’s just a different manufacturing process, with its own advantages and disadvantages. It will be used wherever those pluses outweigh the minuses, either by legitimate gunsmiths and hobbyists, or black market zip gun makers.

    • I think his logic is more that power drills won’t make cabinets any more widespread than they already are.

      For all practical purposes, 80% lowers is a much easier way of making a firearm than 3D printing currently.

      I have heard of some experimental DLMS (direct laser metal sintering, which is like 3D printing, but with metal) of gun parts.

      • But power tools most certainly have made manufactured goods more widespread. When all furniture was made by hand, using hand tools, it was much more expensive, and the average person would barely have the basics. Improved and automated manufacturing techniques (which is all 3D printing is) made furniture easier to produce, and therefore cheaper and more widely available. Black markets function just like legal markets, so if there’s an easier, less-risky way to meet demand (3D printed guns vs. stealing/straw buyers/etc), the market will exploit that.

        Yes, current 3D printers aren’t capable of producing a better firearm than traditional machine-shop methods. Yet. But give it a decade or two, and DMLS (or some other technology) will be better, faster, and cheaper than it is today. At which point, there almost certainly will be more people (both legitimate and black-market) making guns with them than are currently making them the old-fashioned way. 3D printing technology has the potential for a virtually “plug-and-play” manufacturing process, such that someone with very rudimentary skills could build a reasonably reliable firearm. The old-fashioned techniques either require more skill than that, or yield very crappy single-shot zip guns.

        • I think it might be better to say that as things stand today, the technology is not well suited to the production of firearms parts. A parallel could be that CNC machining is a very useful technology, but you don’t use a CNC mill to make sheet metal. Hot or cold rolling with massive pressure works better, even though it is an older tech. Similarly, you don’t use sintered metal to make doorknobs or soda cans. You could do it, but other methods are cheaper and arguably would produce a better product.

          By the same token, the physical demands placed on firearms may not be well suited to even those 3d processes that use metal. A forging or casting has different properties than a part made by DMLS.

          Where 3d printing shines is in the lack of tooling, to make unique parts quickly, and the ability to create shapes without needing tool access to the interior of a part. While I can’t see a direct benefit to mass production in either of those (make enough of anything and the tooling can pay for itself, and firearms parts tend towards simple and solid shapes), smarter people than me will no doubt find a reason and a way to make it happen.

        • Hasbrudal,
          The 3d process we will see in the mid term future (10-14 years form now) will in fact be extremely well suited to firearms production.

          Especially when you consider it is the capability of lowers, which are already polymers, as well as add components (grips, telescoping stocks, etc) which are the controlled items

    • It is a different niche, for the arms made by 3D printing, at least at this stage, are inferior to the average homemade arm. One can make a 22RF from a board and a piece of brake line that is far better than the liberator and such like. This will remain so until such time as someone can print hardened steel and rifled chromoly steel.

  8. I’m an academic and a gun guy. Readers here need to differentiate between academics in data and quantitative analysis driven fields of study and the soft arts. While the majority of academics in hard fields are still liberal their research is for the most part is driven by data analysis, not by personal ideology. In fact most researchers in quantitative fields would find it to be a gross violation of their professional ethos to let their personal biases influence their analysis. Readers also need to differentiate between actual research papers and media reports of those papers. The media in general does a terrible job reporting on academic papers. I know, b/c I’ve had papers that I’ve been an co-author on cited in the media and they missed the main point(s) nearly completely. They pull ideas out of context to fit their outlet’s slant, which is perhaps where many people get the impression that academic research has a particular partisan bias.

    Now, as for the soft fields, I’ll agree that ,most of their research is slanted towards a particular agenda. Then again I view most of the research conducted in the humanities and related fields as akin to metaphysics, an exercise in over complex semantics or intellectual masturbation (as a colleague of mine has so adroitly described it).

    • For the most part, I would agree with you, but I would add that a massive influx of research grants can have the effect of turning a relatively hard science towards the metaphysics end of the spectrum. For example, the current state of climate research.

      • Climate research? HAH! Just look at medical research. It’s nearly all geared toward finding new chemical formulations to patent as drugs to fight existing diseases, maintaining the status quo for foundations that live off existing diseases like cancer, and discovering or creating new diseases to benefit the first two categories.

  9. I remeber seeing a vid from on a leftwing website (maybe washington times?) talking about how about 80% of firearms are manufactured in the USA. They went on to explain that even a total ban on civilian firearm ownership would do little, if anything, to stem crimes comited with firearms because of how easily they would end up on the black market.

  10. MIT is a school full of scientists and engineers who deal almost exclusively with rational discourse and cold logic/numbers. There aren’t that many liberal arts professors in their twill coats with elbow pads mucking up the reputation of a thinker’s university, blabbering off about emotions and claims not supported by numbers and rooted in irrational thought. I’m glad an engineer tells it like it is, that’s their job. A reality is a lot of these engineers from MIT end up working on weapons systems of every kind, from small arms to big guns and future weapons like rail guns and so on, they naturally would have an affinity for weapons, which is why they made a career designing them.

    • Whether someone, like a government contractor or politician, has a personal affinity for firearms speaks nothing as to whether they would defend the rights of the peasantry to possess such weapons. We see the hypocrisy of double standards daily with gun owning gun grabbers like Feinstein, for example.

  11. MIT Pistol Team Upends Navy For National Title

    Engineers Earn Eight All-America Honors

    March 21, 2005
    I know its dated, but there is this…….

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The MIT pistol team claimed its first national title since 1974 by upsetting the U.S. Naval Academy at the NRA Intercollegiate Pistol Championship. The Engineers edged out the nationally-ranked No. 1 Midshipmen by four points, preventing them from earning their fifth consecutive crown. MIT captured its fourth crown in the program’s history, with previous victories occurring in 1971 and 1972.

    Will Hart, the well-known MIT Pistol Coach, said he told his team not to worry about keeping score, “Don’t worry about your score, just make each shot count.” And they did, by just four points!

    • I daresay that in the Cambridge, Mass. of 2014 the MIT Pistol Team would have a difficult time obtaining pistols, ammunition, and a place to shoot.

  12. 3d printers will revolutionize a lot of things — and certainly firearms.

    Not so much the black market, but capabilities.

    I think a lot of people don’t know much about the predicted advances in 3d. The strength of the polymers used will greatly increase, the price of the printers will fall quickly as well.

    My brother in law works in the auto parts logistics business. I think people have no idea how production runs of parts, distribution and inventorying are extremely costly and how 3d printing will drive a total change int hat alone. Same with hundred so application.

    Asking someone at MIT what will happen to a given segment from 3d printers is like asking 25 years ago what personal computers will do. When I worked on the Hill I attended hearings where the experts predicted no US home would need more than 1200 baud since that was faster than a human could read an ASCII stream.

    • That is all true. However, it will require a major breakthrough to 3D print an entire firearm. It will be the frames and lowers that will show up first, from high strength polymers like the glock. No telling how long before it is possible to print hardened steel for FCGs, or cromoly for rifled barrels. Maybe never.
      But soon the receivers will be printed with sufficient materials to make home assembly of a printed firearm with purchased parts doable. Then they will just seek to ban all gun parts…

  13. I’m not into conspiracy-type thinking [HAH], but…

    If the government – in the name of gun control, For The Children™ – starts regulating and restricting 3D printers, there goes a large portion of the market and development funding. So, politics requires the narrative that “these are not the printers you are looking for…”

  14. Here’s a thought for all of the gun grabbers (yes, I know, assumes that they actually think before spewing)…I bet that, if pro-2A people weren’t so sure that factions of the .gov were ALWAYS looking for ways to limit or eliminate gun ownership, there would be much less interest in home-building firearms via 3-d printers or any other method.
    As for criminals, as already noted, there are plenty of less-expensive and readily available ways to get guns. Even in such ‘gun-free’ utopias as the UK, Denmark, etc.

    • Quite the opposite. We lambast universities for NOT being more intellectual, for being factories of opinion rather than fact, ignorance rather than knowledge, and agenda rather than wisdom.

      The problem isn’t stupid gun owners bashing higher education. It’s intelligent gun owners finding no use in dumbed down educational institutions. We’re resentful that places of true knowledge have been corrupted.

      Once universities match my and other gun owners’ higher intelligence, I’ll stop rolling my eyes at them.

      • And when university professors produce graduates of sufficient quality that they can be hired, I’ll change my opinion of them. Meanwhile they continue to pursue nonsensical project grant money and let their student slaves, er, assistants actually do their teaching.

        • Come on out to California. Cal Poly has been putting out graduates ready to hit the ground running for more than 40 years. Possibly well more.

          And yes I’m a graduate :). I won 2 internship spots before graduating. I landed a dream job with a major CNC machine tool manufacturer one month after graduation, and was actually hired on the spot.

          While I can never bad mouth MIT, the teaching philosophies differ drastically. MIT focuses on theory, while Cal Poly teaches theory combined with a very heavy learn by doing philosophy. Nearly every one of my engineering courses included a lab section. So students learn the theory, but then learn how it applies to the real world which greatly shortens the time needed to learn how to apply theory to real world situations. In fact, that time is often reduced to zero, leaving just company policies, workflows, philosophies, etc, to be picked up.

  15. He is simply heading off any association of his pet project with the black market/crime world.

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