Previous Post
Next Post

Do you know how to tell if a cultural, societal or technological phenomenon has built sufficient steam and broken through into the general consciousness? It’s when the New York Times finally gets around to noticing it — a minimum of six to eight months later — and decides to bring it to the attention of their ever-declining readership along with all the rest of the news that’s fit to print. So with yesterday’s article by Nick Bilton, Disruptions: With a 3-D Printer, Building a Gun With the Push of a Button, printing guns and gun parts with your own accessibly priced 3D printing equipment has officially come to the notice of our betters. And that means something needs to be done about it. Now. The only problem with that is, as the Times notes . . .

But monitoring whether people make their own guns on a 3-D printer is going to be impossible, barring sticking an A.T.F. agent in every home. It’s also hopeless to try to build a technology into these printers that prevents people from printing a gun. One project mentioned in Mr. Wilson’s video, called the RepRap printer, will be capable of replicating itself by printing other 3-D printers.

But wait, there’s more! The Times article doesn’t miss a chance to point out some of the horrors that are only a download away as this new and dangerous technology proliferates.

It won’t be long before a felon, unable to buy a gun legally, can print one at home. Teenagers could make them in their bedroom while their parents think they are “playing on their computer.” I’m talking about a fully functional gun, where the schematic is downloaded free from the Internet and built on a 3-D printer, all with the click of a button.

Just a thought: why would a felon lay out a couple of grand — minimum — for a computer and 3D printer to gin up a plastic gun when he can go out on the street and buy himself a (mostly) metal one for a couple hundred samolians? Or just steal one? Oh…because in the Times worldview, it’s against the law, and that should be enough to prevent a criminal from doing it, right?

But hey, give the Times props for including a little perspective on the situation, too.

Michael Guslick, an amateur gunsmith who has written extensively online about the considerable challenges of 3-D printed guns, said people had been experimenting with homemade guns for some time. He said the most notable example was the zip gun, which is made from off-the-shelf plumbing parts. (Not surprisingly, the schematics and instructions can be downloaded online.)

“This is just applying a different technology to something that is already being done,” he said. “But making one on a 3-D printer is a lot of work when your local plumbing department is so close by.”

But enough about the exigencies of what Morpheus liked to call the real world. As the Times labels it, this (no longer very) new technology is represents a disruption. A glitch in the matrix. Like the black cat Neo saw twice, it represents a problem, a loosening of controls over something that all right thinking individuals know needs to be very tightly controlled. And control is something that those who have it tend to guard rather jealously. Particularly when it’s gun control.

Never mind the fact that felons and others who have lost their gun rights get their mitts on heaters the old fashioned way each and every day. Never mind that teenagers do all kinds of things in their bedrooms their parents are unaware of (or just don’t want to know about), some of which may even involve guns.

Like the first printing press (the regular, book-making kind), the automobile, rock and roll and the personal computer — oh, and the Internet, too, 3D printing is just the latest whiz-bang, newfangle thing to come along that’s sure to give the powers that be a violent case of the vapors as they visualize everything that can happen if these things are available at every Best Buy store (they will be) and the hoi polloi get their grubby hands on them.

As Guslick, the shade tree gunsmith pointed out, it’s pretty easy for anyone who’s really interested to make a gun at home right now. All it takes is a quick trip to your friendly neighborhood Home Depot. Employing a laptop and a 3D printer is just a natural refinement of the same idea. A further democratization of something that’s already Constitutionally protected. No wonder the Times is so worked up.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. You need a license to manufacture guns currently right? That would stop any (law abidding) Joe Schmo with a CNC machine from milling their own lowers right?

    How would a 3D printer be treated any differently…its just another machine to manufacture parts…

      • Therefore, under ‘current’ law if a person prints up a gun and neither sells it or gives it away it can be legally built and kept as in owned? What if the maker/owner crosses a state line is that still ok? There are laws covering the interstate commerce of guns, however, if it isn’t sold I don’t think it is commerce. Then again, I’m not a lawyer.

        • “Then again, I’m not a lawyer.”
          Me neither. As I currently understand it, you can make what you like. Transferral requires a license. Transport across state lines puts you at the mercy of the law in whatever locale you happen to enter. For more than that, find someone in an expensive suit who charges $500 per hour.

        • Yes you can cross state lines with it, it’s a legit gun under Federal law. The only thing you can’t do is manufacture something illegal, like an M16. You also have to make sure you don’t run afoul of state laws, just like with a gun you buy at a gun store.

        • Stephen you can manufacture an M16 on a Form 1. It was legal until 1986. Now you need a FFL Type 07 with SOT to make an M16.

      • Specifically, what you need is a Type 07 FFL. You’ll also need to pay the FET for a longarm or pistol, depending on the designation of the lower.

        Since the AR lower is a dual-use technology, you’ll also have to deal with the US State Department and their ITAR crap.

    • You don’t even need a CNC machine. A Bridgeport and some fixtures will do just fine and you can make your own lowers. You’ll have to spend some time with a file in the magazine well to square out the corners, but that’s pretty trivial.

      • I like this suggestion. Might have something to do with the fact that I prefer steel and wood rather than plastic and plastic.

      • I was a shopboy for a machinist a while back. You can setup a shop to build AK-47s for a lot less than the price of a digital printer, plus a gun made the “old fashioned” way is not likely to blow your hand (or head) off the way a plastic gun might.

        Most people in the US now have no clue what it means to make something, all thanks to shortsighted fools who wanted to get richer by saving pennies in China. But guess what, China won’t always be a source of cheap labor (and is already changing) and shipping is going to continue to get more expensive. Then what will we do? /endrant

        • Then, there’s Haiti. There’s always someplace cheaper.

          And then, there’s technology. Which always strives to eliminate the “expensive” laborer. Like 3D printers that will print in metal instead of plastic. Or concrete. Or almost anything that can be liquified or extruded.

          This technology is in it’s infancy. One day, houses and buildings will “printed” in this manner. Complete with electrical wiring and plumbing.

  2. I want to be able to print-up a new laptop and printer with a 3D printer. Next, I want to print up one of those life-like Japanese sexx robots who will uhm cook and clean for me.

  3. Polymer AR receivers aren’t impressing me too much. Call me when you can print out a 1-in-7″ twist barrel. In 4140 or 416.

    • You dont need to print the barrel, or the upper, or any of the other parts. Just the lower, since that is the gun as defined by the ATF. So you can buy everything else and have it shipped to your house.

      • Allow me to clarify:

        “Call me when you can print out a 1-in-7″ twist barrel. In 4140 or 416. For cheaper than I can buy it.”

    • That day is coming. The cost of the machinery to do it is rather high right now, but the direct laser metallic sintering process and technology is rapidly proving itself.

      “Additive machining” will be the new buzzword(s) 5 to 10 years from now.

    • I’ve seen a machine that repairs drive shafts by basically welding (kind of spraying actually) metal onto them while they spin in a lathe. The head of a wire-feed welder isn’t too different from the plastic nozzle currently in these printers. We can’t be far from a 3-D metal printer.

      • There already are 3D metal printers. There are two basic groups of 3D metal printing:

        1. The object is “printed” with a mixture of metallic powder, glue and binders. When complete, the object is put into an oven and sintered.

        2. Direct laser sintering after every couple of depositation (“printing”) passes. The lasers are in the hundreds of watts range.

        I think, from what we currently know, that technology #2 could pull off making a gun soon.

      • Spray metal deposition is only a precision operation in terms of depth of layer created. Even then it’s followed by machining operations for close tolerances in the thousandths or ten thousandths of an inch.

        Here’s the real deal, but it’s still way far up the price curve:

        I’m much more interested in replicating how H&K built my USP, with steel inserts at critical points in the polymer structure. High strength plastic + steel inserts >> plastic-only modeling.

    • Exactly. As someone with a lot of 3D printing experience, this whole “OMG he printed a Gun!”, meme is getting old fast. Right now it is actually cheaper to buy into CNC and metal to make a firearm, never mind the fact that there are no printing materials, including laser sintered metals that could make a safe to fire firearm. My big gripe is that all of the hand-wringing and fear mongering is just going to slow down the time-to-market of good consumer grade 3d printers.
      It amazes me how a technology that cant do what they think it can do gets all this attention and yet CNC home machining has been around for decades and is in fact what we owe the plethora of small AR parts and accessories companies too – and it never raised an eyebrow…even now. WTF?!

      • As I explain below – that’s because to you and me, having even a Bridgeport and a lathe at home enables us to make a few guns easily. A CNC machine is just a way to make a bunch of guns easily.

        But the people who work at the NYT can’t understand CNC machining. To them, G/M code looks like this huge, insurmountable barrier to entry – when we both know it isn’t. As you say – look at this huge profusion of AR parts – all coming out of CNC shops by the truckload.

        But – download a program to ‘print’ a gun? That, they can understand. That seems effortless to the NYT writers. That, because they understand it, causes them involuntary incontinence.

  4. I love it when technology renders the authoritarians’ attempts at controlling people completely irrelevant.

    • Mute 75 year old men in Pakistan have been shelling out fully functional copies of Tokarev pistols, among other firearms, with nothing more than a simple furnace, molds, and other basic hand tools. They’ve been doing this for decades. There is nothing new or scary about this 3D printing business. It’s just technology evolving.

      Of course there will be no shortage of “Blood in the streets with fully automatic home printed assault rifles, think of the children!” nonsense coming from the usual suspects.

  5. This is exactly like the printing press of almost six hundred years ago. Power that was formerly expensive and largely unavailable to the general public got distributed. The New York Times is an example of that distribution of power. This new example isn’t ready for prime time right now, but that day will come, and it could make gun laws irrelevant.

  6. Wouldn’t a plastic lower be unsafe? I’m not an AR guy so I don’t know… I doubt 3D printer plastic is as strong as the polymer used in “plastic” guns. Or is it the same? Has anyone tried this?

    • That’s the money question. The more you spend on the printer and raw materials, the stronger you can make the lower. Hell, if you had the gear, you could 3D print a lower in sintered stainless steel, then infuse it with bronze and bake it at 1400 degrees. Not as strong as a tensile-rated stainless, but much stronger than the stuff you run through a $1000 home 3D printer.

    • The highest stress point on an AR lower is where the stock is attached. A lot of the plastic lowers got around this by adding more material to this area and adding a permanent A2 stock. There are some plastic trigger groups as well.

      The upper receiver might be able to get away with being plastic (I’m no gunsmith/engineer) if the area where the barrel attaches is outfitted with a steel sleeve that also serves as a groove for the BCG to ride along. Plastics are getting tougher and tougher, so who knows where the limitations will end.

    • The lower on an AR doesn’t undergo much in the way of stress. All it has to do is keep the buffer tube in line behind the bolt. The rest of what the lower does is keep the magazine and trigger group in correct alignment with the upper.

      • Would you use a polymer lower with an upper chambered in any centerfire caliber? Heck, what are the limitations as far as making an upper out of polymer?

        • Sure. There’s already someone shipping a polymer lower for .223/5.56:

          Polymer upper? Maybe, depending on the polymer. The threads which will take the castellated nut for the barrel would probably be a metal insert, tho.

          The parts that have to withstand the serious pressure and abuse are this on the AR:

          1. The barrel (obviously).
          2. The barrel extension, which contains the…
          3. Bolt, which is put into the barrel extension by…
          4. The bolt carrier.

          Those parts have to withstand serious pressure and hot gases. Most of the rest of the AR system could be replaced by the proper selection of polymers. This does NOT mean that you can make the upper and/or lower out of Cheeze Whiz. There are polymers and then there are polymers.

    • It absolutely is NOT safe. The materials are printed a layer at a time bonded and cured with UV light (in most cases) and do not have the same tensile strength as a cast medium. This kind of printing is generally referred to as Rapid Prototyping for a reason – its primary use is to demonstrate, iterate and check the fitment or usability of parts to be manufactured by other means, such as traditional solid-block milling or machined metal casts. These 3d prints are absolutely not for final use. Rare exception can be made for things like decorative sculpts and small toys, where strength, durability and abrasion resistance are not an issue.

    • The primary (cheapest) types currently are ABS and PLA: (ABS was always used in spud guns because it stretches (lower elastic modulus) rather than shatters when overpressured).

      Polycarbonate is probably the strongest, used in safety glasses, but the most expensive and I only saw a firm in Germany selling it. It is clear like glass and many people would prefer black abs.

      The rear upper pin hole is what ‘needs attention’: the more recoil, the more the rear of the receiver will bend and the more chance of a crack going through that hole and in extreme cases literally taking the back end of a polymer ar15 receiver off. New polymer manufacturers such as plum crazy have addressed it with internal extra plastic reinforcement.

      I disagree with Billy Wardlaw, it is entirely safe-until he demos extensive NDT testing (liquid penetrant UV dye) to prove otherwise…you can increase the nozzle temp to more closely emulate a cast bond or put the item in a custom mold and reheat it to melt temp. so you have the ‘cast strength’ he thinks is superior.

      An injection mold die for an ar15 receiver is very expensive, only a commercial SOT would buy one for mass production. But of course you could do a raw casting and address it as you would a normal aluminum casting….

      JoshinGA there are no limits for a plastic upper, it must be accurate: especially the front face of the upper rec. perpendicular to the barrel.

      motomed: cartridge casings should be injection molded for accuracy and just plain efficiency…with 3d printing you have the layered lines: the rework and fitment of that layer cake req’d would be brutal…possible, not recommended. Lathe bit pass(es) could bring the OD into spec-straight wall cartridges fine, but bottle neck casing’s a real b****…3 setups, 3 passes for every one: case, shoulder and neck, so you’d do all the necks at once, then all the shoulders in another and finally the remainder. And not to mention rim touchup or creation (if not printed or cast initially during case creation). Rifle cartridges will need a metal rim, but then a bottle necked case would not be printed with a (plastic) rim, but could be if injection molded: shotgun and pistol cases a candidate for plastic rim, but not rifle cases.

  7. Here’s the real reason why the harruphing harridans and metrosexuals at the NYT have their silk panties in a twist over this:

    Of course a machinist or someone with machining tools could make guns before this. From the NYT’s perspective, those people were dirty, smelled of oil and grease, talked with foul language, drank coffee the consistency of mud, didn’t eat in restaurants reviewed by the NYT, didn’t read books reviewed by the NYT, often smoked cigarettes or a pipe while working and were generally not possessed of an Ivy League education.

    In other words… low class. Hmmpf!

    These people were also in relatively short supply in the posh neighborhoods where the NYT reporters and writers live and commute. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. What the NYT didn’t know existed didn’t worry them.

    But with 3D printing, where someone could download the plans to a “gun” off the intertubes, stuff it into a program on your PC and just print out a gun like you print out a greeting card?

    Holy crap! Martha, call Pinch (and his stuffed moose) and tell him there’s a crisis! That’s so easy that any liberal arts major could do it. Even the drooling idiots in the NYT editorial room could do it.

    Now, suddenly, the issue is “real.”

  8. “I’m talking about a fully functional gun, where the schematic is downloaded free from the Internet ”


    First off… Printable LOWER RECEIVERS have been readily available to just about anyone with a 3D printer.. Hell I have one and I dont even own a 3D printer. Good to have. I also have a Solid Model for use in autocad or Solidworks. Thats just how I am. That said, anyone with a drill press, some free time, and a little wit can drill a 80% lower up to 100% and they’re good to go. This has been the case for quite some time, and frankly, I highly doubt anyone will take the time to mention that. 3D printing is like the new vinyl, 8-track, cassette tape, CD-R, DVD-R etc. Just like the record companies faught to stop the use of such products, anti’s will use guns as a means to say “Look what criminals, or children can do!” To bad the technology for a fully functional UPPER RECEIVER isn’t readily available. The technology to PRINT an upper receiver with a barrel capable of withstanding 55,000PSI is no where to be found at the moment. So, no, your child will not be printing a “fully functional firearm.”

    With the right amount of money, everyone has a price though. The cost of materials is pretty high at the moment, but not astronomical. It’s still easier to get a gun from some low life in an alley way, or from your banger cousin or his/your girlfriend (straw-buy). I*golf clap* LA Times… Nice of you to account for REAL LIFE STATISTICS rather than hyper, fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

  9. “I’m talking about a fully functional gun, where the schematic is downloaded free from the Internet and built on a 3-D printer”

    Does this person have any understanding of the engineering and physics involved in firearms?

    Do they recognize and understand the differences between a Ferrari and a hot wheels replica of a Ferrari?

    Imagine, convicted drunk drivers and children could just print out fully functional hi-performance super cars in their bed room!!!

    Or Tanks! They could print out an M1 Abrams right from their laptops!?!

    Because that is apparently how this reporter think this technology works…

    Maybe we need to introduce some reasonable restrictions on the first amendment. I mean, we don’t want just anyone to be able to spread their unqualified and irrational hysterics.

  10. Has anyone here recently used a 3d printer? I printed out a working adjustable wrench and you know what happened when I tried to use it? It broke. There is no way that with the current technology in these 3d printers use that you can print anything that will even fire one bullet. It is just sensationalism

    • Wrong. The guy who made the big headlines with this printed out an AR lower and shot a coupe hundred rounds of .22 with a dedicated .22 upper, then he actually fired it with .223 upper to make sure it worked. He didn’t test beyond that, but suffice it to say that a .22 is a real gun cartridge and can safely be fired from a 3-D printed plastic gun. The lower wasn’t made to mil-spec thicknesses, it had lots of extra internal meat and external ribs to hold everything together.

  11. I remember reading about how David Marshall Williams (Carbine Williams) made a fully funtioning repeating rifle while in PRISON using only his hands, a file and a vise. I have also seen what it takes to build a parts “kit” into a fully functioning STEN 9mm sub-machine gun, just some properly sized pipe, a drill and a welder are all that is really required. If anyone ever saw the “Liberator” pistol that the US air dropped into occupied France during WWII, it was a gussied up zip gun that cost less than $2 to manufacture at the time. Making a working firearm is pretty easy. Making a repeating firearm is a little tougher, but with parts availability, not out of the reach of the slightly above average handy man with tools. Heck, black powder firearms can be bought as complete kits and assembled at home with complete instructions and no paperwork trail in most states. I don’t understand the hysteria….. oh yeah, I forgot, ‘they’ don’t want anyone to have any guns available at anytime, anyplace for any reason, except of course for the police, and military.

    • You’re absolutely correct. Someone who knows something about metalworking can make a pretty nice gun with only a drill and a file.

      I have well over a hundred files, a dozen rasps and rifflers, sets of diamond files, files specifically tailored for aluminum and stainless steel, with interchangeable handles. Files, to this day, are an extension of the gunsmith’s hand.

      If someone wants to ban guns, they’d have to ban files, too. And to do that, they’d have to seize every piece of steel ever used to make a leaf spring on a vehicle…

    • Fully assembled black powder guns can be bought on-line and shipped to your home in most states without the typical paperwork for a modern gun. That should apply to all guns, of course.

      • It used to, before the 1968 Gun Control Act.

        I remember as a young lad, reading the Sears & Roebuck and Monkey Wards catalogs and seeing that you could order all manner of guns through the mail, delivered to you at your local Sears or Wards depot.

        For some reason, I seem to recall that you could get a M1 Carbine for about $80, and a Garand for about $169.

  12. Relax, Mr. & Mrs. America. Little Johnny doesn’t need a printer to make a firearm. He probably doesn’t need a plumbing supply store, either. The stuff that zip guns are made of can be found in almost every basement in America. The tougher problem is getting one’s hands on the ammo. Don’t ask me how I know this, just accept it as reliable information posted by a former kid from The Bronx.

  13. A woman here @ work read that article and just about birthed a fully grown bovine. She and my other co-worker are extremely anti gun and were already freaked out this morning when a new set of grips for my Ruger Blackhawk were delivered & the NYT article was just icing on the cake 🙂

    Despite my best efforts in education re:shooting in general, 2A law, the reality pf buying a gun/ammo vs gow its teported in the news, etc. the response I continue to get is “why do you NEED a gun, let alone multiple?”. Owning, let alone making, guns is something their Chicago resident mindset just can’t wrap their heads around.

  14. What really disturbs me is that the second most popular comment is from some clown in Portugal who asserts the world is worse for Mr. Cody’s existence.

    The NYT knows how to pander to its readership.

Comments are closed.