3d GLOCK magazines
Courtesy Ivan the Troll
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There’s a big push on right now by gun controllers, Democrats and the media (BIRM) to raise the alarm about the looming threat posed by 3D-printed guns (and 80% firearms, too). The prohibitionists are liberally tossing around the term “ghost gun” wherever they can. It’s just the kind of terrifying term the Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex loves to bandy about to rile up the low-information middle and the moms in red shirts.

Kevin de Leon may not have known much about firearms, but he knew enough to coin a sticky moniker. “Ghost gun” is the new “assault weapon.”

One of the latest efforts in this regard comes from the New Republic, which has been on something of an anti-gun roll lately. The writer for their latest effort at least had the good sense to get in touch with Ivan the Troll of Deterrence Dispensed for her piece. He, of course, is the author of our series on 3D printed guns (see here, here and here).

One of the article’s takeaways is that, well, you can’t stop the signal. What’s happened in the US and around the world over the last 60 days has taught a lot of people that having the means to defend yourself is a very good idea. And waiting around for government permission is something fewer people have the patience for any more.

“Given that most retail gun stores can’t keep popular firearms like Glocks or AR-15s in stock, doing a parts-kit build becomes a more and more attractive option,” Ivan [the Troll] explains. “In several states, the background check process is taking longer than shipping a parts kit to your house and printing a lower receiver would, so it’s even a time-save on top of being the only way to get popular firearms in some places.”

The future of 3D printing will map out in different ways, depending on the commodity in question, but a common thread is an underlying turn toward self-sufficiency, as well as an accompanying disregard for laws and regulations that attempt to block access to these products. Second Amendment absolutists and right-wing extremists are certainly a loud contingent in American culture and have always had a contentious relationship with centralized authority, but now everyone else does, too. We’ve been told that, unless we’re on death’s door, we must white-knuckle a debilitating virus at home. We’ve been told that the states are on their own in fighting this invisible enemy, that no cavalry is coming. There is a vacuum at the center, and we all know nature abhors a vacuum.

It is the type of environment that allows subcultures on the fringe to flourish. Gun rights activists have long maintained that people have to fend for themselves, that they can’t rely on the government to protect them—and in this case, it turns out that they were right. 3D technology’s full potential has yet to be unlocked, and we only have a tenuous understanding of the major players in this emerging market—the creators, the protectors, and the destroyers. The only thing that seems safe to predict right now is that the future belongs to all three.

– Kim Kelly in The Rise of the 3D-Printed Gun

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  1. We *really* need RGB to meet Serge’s ‘Bucket of water”.

    C’mon, Ruthie, you can do it… 😉

      • The mean part of me might opine she hasn’t been ‘slippery’ in many decades… 🙂

        • We need to stop putting our trust in SCOTUS. Congress is where legislation belongs. But I get it. The Nine have created “legislation” only they can do.

          If RBG dies or resigns before November, you can start saying “President Biden.” The enthusiasm gap will get closed right quick.

        • “If RBG dies or resigns before November, you can start saying “President Biden.” The enthusiasm gap will get closed right quick.”

          Whoa –

          That is a damn good point, and kinda frightening…

  2. Umm, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t these 3D printed guns plastic? Seems to me they’d have a finite lifespan.

    • That’s what people said about Glocks when they first came out. Now everyone makes a plastic gun.

      Do some research.

      • In all fairness, one of those early 3-D guns was a .380 caliber with a plastic barrel, and it failed after a few rounds…

    • There are DMLS 3D printers, and there are 3D printers that will print in a form of wax, that can then be used as a heated/dissolvable form to leave a mold for investment casting.

      Then you can cast your parts in whatever metal you choose.

      • Yeah, but DMLS won’t be found commonly at the local level for a *long* time.

        A lost-wax ‘style’ print is do-able, but will need a bit of skill for anything stronger that aluminum or that brass AR lower FarmCraft101 created.

        An AR lower can probably be printed by a big-box 3-D printer, and it wouldn’t surprise be to see someone offering pre-formed frame rails for a Glock that can be snapped into place, like the Polymer80 frame kit.

        Now, someone on a night shift at a fab shop *might* be able to knock a DMLS out and get away with it…

        • You should read the other three articles that TTAG put together and linked in this article. It’ll help you understand the state of the art a little better.

    • The differences between what a home hobbyist can do in making a 3D printed plastic gun part and what industry can do is considerable.

      At home the machine you can afford is limited in the type of material and the method of flowing it into a close-tolerance object. The plastics are relatively soft, the precision considerably less on a home-budget machine than one designed and affordable to industry. Same holds true for the small, bench-top CNC mills and other metal-cutting machines.

      A major difference between the hobbyist and industry is a polymer frame is not 3D printed by industry, it is injection molded or cast. Injection molding machines and molds are very expensive and only become profitable in large volume production. They have the advantage too of being able to use superior polymers and fillers to add strength, such as glass filled nylon.

      Casting of polymers is also common in industry, though I don’t know if gun makers are applying this technique. For complex parts the ability is there to achieve 99.9% finished components, needing only removal of flash and sprues (filling holes). Hobbyists can make things out of cast resins, but they usually lack the sophistication in processing that industry has achieved. Such as degassing to a controlled vacuum level, then applying four or five atmosphere’s of pressure to improve penetration and adhesion to fillers or metal components within the cast part.

      What it all gets down too is yes home or small business 3D printers can do lots of low stress gun parts now. But for the most durable of materials and methods, those are not 3D printing processes and remain out of reach $$$ for the home builder.

      • You’re thinking about 3D printing one-dimensionally.

        3D printing is so much more than just printing knickknacks and little doodads. With a 200 dollar printer, you can print a growing number (over 30 at this point) of recievers/frames for the multitude of firearms kits that are sold commercially. That’s the first dimension of their usefulness.

        With that same printer, you can print parts that are extremely difficult for even journeyman gunsmiths to make – magazines, ergonomic grips and recievers (think hand-carved pistol grips, only you don’t need to know how to carve), risers, shims, mounts, and a number of other parts.

        And finally, that same printer lets you punch far, far above its price range when it comes to manufacturing tooling. My latest 80% lower jig cost me 4 bucks. I printed it. It worked just as well as the 80PA Easy Jig that costs 20 times that much. You can print custom tooling for twist gain, polygonal rifling via ECM – go ahead and find me a setup that can replicate that in chrome alloy steel for 200 bucks, let alone the massive amount of aforementioned things that 200 bucks gets you.

        The home gunsmith that doesn’t see the usefulness of a 200 dollar Ender 3 is in denial. You’d be hard pressed to get that level of usefulness from 200 dollars spent on any other tooling.

    • “Umm, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t these 3D printed guns plastic? Seems to me they’d have a finite lifespan.”

      It is more complicated than that. The Liberator, the Songbird, and the Washbear are “fully” printed firearms(but will still require improvised metal firing pins and sometimes rubber bands as hammer springs). From the 3rd article by Ivan the Troll:

      “The FGC-9 is a firearm anyone can make, anywhere in the world.

      Made from 3D-printed parts paired with unregulated metal parts, it stands as a death-blow to future US gun control efforts, and circumvents strict European gun control laws.”

    • You’re correct in your focus and question. Early guns have been made of plastics that were not able to endure the heat thus they lasted a few shots until they melted. This may serve for some mafia hitman or some nutcase, but it’s a last ditch attempt to be armed.

      We use the term plastic with carelessness. The so called “plastic guns” like Glocks are actually polymer firearms. There is Delrin, nylon, polyester, polystyrene, poly vinyl acetate or PVC for short and a few other types of synthetic or so called plastic materials. Some are more or less sensitive to heat with varying degrees of strength, elasticity or brittleness. They all have different properties.

      So the notion, which the anti-gun grabbers like to promote is the idea that anyone can melt some cheap plastic items into a working firearm equal to one made from metal or high tech materials at a factory or in a machine shop. That’s total crap. Even a metal pipe zip gun is inferior and will not last as long as a well made, factory firearm or firearm made from good parts. And without a 3D printer, you can’t easily create and duplicate all the complex parts with the push of a button if you have no button to push.

    • The early models without metal reenforcement, as well as cheap ones are fragile. A resin mold made from legos and a lower will last around 200 rounds and costs $2 to make, but you can make hundreds of them.

      The newer and higher end printed lowers, as well as other 3D specific weapons will last significantly longer.

  3. People have been able to make guns from nothing for hundreds of years, but these morons are only now getting their panties in a wad about this because of 3D printer technology. With 3D printing technology, these morons can now think that they, personally, could possibly make a gun, and now “it is possible” and “an emergency!”

    These fools and mental midgets should go visit the Browning Museum in Ogden. They can see Browning’s workshop re-created. There is no 3D printer therein. There is no computer with a CAD/CAM system and big LCD/LED screens. No, there’s a shop with benches, a drill press and a lathe.

    A benchtop lathe would enable anyone who has a brain to make a handgun, and some training in how to use hand files would enable someone to make just about anything they wanted. I make parts for old/obsolete guns regularly with nothing more than hand files and my choice of steel. Everyone thinks it is “too hard” and “takes too long” until I show them how to actually drive a hand file. The first part of that education is teaching people that there are many, many more files and types of files than you can buy down at a local hardware store today, and choosing the right type and cut of file can speed up material removal quite a bit.

    • True.

      There are YouTube videos of a home gunsmith taking scrap metals, melting it down and using a simple sand cast to create a receiver. Then using machine shop tools, all very common, to create perfect receivers. The machinist skills in those videos are high level, but it’s the sort of thing people have done for centuries.

      There’s videos on barrel making too. Very cool stuff to watch craftsmen at work!

      As long as humans exist there will be every sort of firearm making going on. From a single round shotgun made out of a Home Depot plumbing parts to that guy turning out an precision AR from a barrel full of aluminum cans.

    • DG – By any chance do you still have that link for the young woman that hand machined a serviceable .38 cal. revolver? A hard drive crash wiped my bookmarks out…

    • My father machined parts for handguns for DECADES and he thought that eventually 3D printers would be able to make all the parts for a working gun–but he didn’t expect to see it in his lifetime and often said so. He saw it as a raw materials problem: it would take a lot of changes and work to get a 3D printer that could use metal as raw material.

      Dad was right about not seeing it happen in his lifetime. We lost him to influenza complicated by pneumonia a year ago Feburary. I miss him dearly. He would have been 78 that November.

    • The difference is a DIY rifle used to be a relatively high skill, high upfront cost adventure. Now, you can get a printer, calibrate it, and print a lower from any number of repositories. A complicated task with high upfront costs (machine tools, work bench, etc,) has been made super easy and relatively inexpensive. Still out of reach for me though, monetarily.

    • Anyone with a lathe can make a gun? Do you have a lathe and have you made a gun? Seems like a fair amount of conjecture otherwise.

      3D printing drastically lowers the cost, skill, and time investment barriers to making guns. You’ll find it’s the people who haven’t actually printed guns who will argue otherwise.

      Making guns without automation is harder than with – you could prove me wrong by running a Glock frame off with your lathe, but we both realize that wouldn’t be possible for anyone but extremely skilled machinists – while someone with one week’s experience can run them off a 200 dollar printer all day long.

  4. I’m holding out for a 4D printer so I can make a gun that goes back in time and shoots the person who invented New Coke.

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