3-D printed guns now allowed by the Department of Justice
July 10, 2018 9:53 PM   Subscribe

An article in Wired reports that now anyone can download plans for guns. A new development in a story previously discussed on MetaFilter and other publications such as Forbes: as of a couple of months ago, distributing blueprints for printing guns is no longer deemed illegal in the USA.

From the Wired article:

"Wilson is making up for lost time. Later this month, he and the nonprofit he founded, Defense Distributed, are relaunching their website Defcad.com as a repository of firearm blueprints they've been privately creating and collecting, from the original one-shot 3-D-printable pistol he fired in 2013 to AR-15 frames and more exotic DIY semi-automatic weapons. The relaunched site will be open to user contributions, too; Wilson hopes it will soon serve as a searchable, user-generated database of practically any firearm imaginable."

"Wilson has spent the last years on an unlikely project for an anarchist: Not simply defying or skirting the law but taking it to court and changing it. In doing so, he has now not only defeated a legal threat to his own highly controversial gunsmithing project. He may have also unlocked a new era of digital DIY gunmaking that further undermines gun control across the United States and the world—another step toward Wilson's imagined future where anyone can make a deadly weapon at home with no government oversight. Two months ago, the Department of Justice quietly offered Wilson a settlement to end a lawsuit he and a group of co-plaintiffs have pursued since 2015 against the United States government. [...] [The DOJ] promises to change the export control rules surrounding any firearm below .50 caliber—with a few exceptions like fully automatic weapons and rare gun designs that use caseless ammunition—and move their regulation to the Commerce Department, which won't try to police technical data about the guns posted on the public internet. In the meantime, it gives Wilson a unique license to publish data about those weapons anywhere he chooses."

And from the 2012 Forbes article: "And what about the possibility, in that imagined future, of more innocent deaths than ever from guns spreading beyond all control? Or that people who can't access guns, like felons and the mentally ill, will be especially eager to use the technology? "I don’t see empirical evidence that access to guns increases the rate of violent crime," answers Wilson. "If someone wants to get their hands on a gun, they’ll get their hands on a gun."
posted by StrawberryPie (56 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I missed another previous posting in MetaFilter – my apologies for that.
posted by StrawberryPie at 9:57 PM on July 10


Welp, now that gun control has been circumvented, it is time once again to look into Chris Rock’s plan for bullet control.
posted by ejs at 10:17 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


The article kinda buries the lede with pearl clutching with a bunch of “you’ll be able to download guns!!!”, but the recent development is that the government decided to settle the lawsuit that came out the last time we talked about this in 2013.

Nerds of a certain age remember the criminalization over “exporting” encryption technologies by making them available on a public website, and this was the same kinda thing. The government treated Wilson putting up some STL files on a website the same as shipping a bunch of actual AR-15s down to Mexico. That of course is an incredibly bad precident, which is why the EFF was involved in making sure Wilson won the case.

To be very clear: If Wilson had just restricted his website to only be accessible within the US, there would have been no lawsuit by the Obama Administration and no one would have talked about this in 2013.
posted by sideshow at 10:27 PM on July 10 [12 favorites]


As long as a statistically meaningful percentage of the (white male) population is sexually aroused by the idea of killing someone, nothing will change relative to firearms laws, and therefore nothing about this non-story should be even slightly interesting. Oh look, a legal loophole. Gosh. How surprising. This is definitely unlike filing off some unnecessary protuberances. For sure.

So, in other words:

... yawn...

Wow. Legal loopholes. Guns. Loser males feeling their oats. Who could have guessed?
posted by aramaic at 10:38 PM on July 10 [6 favorites]


The OP article mentions the late 20th century encryption export control stuff. I remember finding bound copies of source code printed in monospaced typeface in discount bins at book stores.

Always missing from these articles is a comparison with other sorts of improvised firearms and modern projectile weapons... Wikipedia even has an article just about improvised artillery in the Syrian Civil War. Do the fancy high-tech manufacturing processes actually make any material difference at the scale of U.S. gun violence?

With the “3% of the population owns half of the civilian guns in the US” stat, I would think it's going to be those guys—who already have more guns than they can possibly use in the most extravagant mass shooting and probably have little prepper-fantasy arms caches hidden all over the place—who will also fetishize computer-manufactured weapons.

In other home-made mass-murder munitions news, several of the people who carried out the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack (previously 1, 2) were executed last week, “the largest group of people to be executed in post-war Japan.”
posted by XMLicious at 11:20 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


I imagine they will be much more fragile than a conventionally manufactured weapon. What material do most 3D printer use? Would it be able to withstand the energy released from firing one bullet?
posted by bookman117 at 11:43 PM on July 10


The parallels with encryption are interesting - although as Phil Zimmerman notes in the article, there are actual humanitarian/peacetime uses for encryption, c.f. guns.

It's also interesting that they assume that somehow governments will be unable to resist them now -- a bit like the crypto nerds -- when the reality is that pervasive access to this kind of technology will result in different kinds of regulation, or be used as a justification for greater intrusion into personal freedom, like the constant calls for encryption with back doors.

Here I can imagine an expanded set of police powers to search and seize based on the suspicion that someone has made their own firearms would be the kind of thing we'd actually get, rather than a suddenly obedient and chastened government.
posted by pulposus at 12:00 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Seems that this is more likely to be a problem outside the U.S., given that inside the U.S. why would anyone bother to go through the trouble of home-printing a gun when there's always a Wal-Mart or gun sale on somewhere and the restrictions in many states are, ahem, lax.

I could see a "Universal Exports" use case though: you send in 007 to Badmenistan and once inside (traveling as a tourist or some other disguise) you print out your gun and sanction the tin hat dictator with the rogue nukes or whatnot.
posted by chavenet at 12:08 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Not that big of a deal, really. In the US if it's legal to buy it it's legal to make it yourself*.

You can learn to make a "pipe shotgun" from hardware store parts on youtube (like dozens of videos, some with 1M+ views). If you can use a drill press you can finish an "80% lower" for an AR (That idiot who made the 3D printed guns makes a robot for this called the "ghost gunner"). Or if you're handy with metalwork you can make an AK out of a shovel. It's always easier and usually cheaper just to go by a gun. For the price of a 3D printer you could buy a whole stack of shitty plastic guns that are still WAY better than any 3D printed gun.

* except sometimes, laws vary by state, and possessing plans could be considered intent to manufacture. Consult a lawyer before googling.
posted by netowl at 12:15 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


In the 80s RPG Traveller they had an item called a "body pistol"... plastic / ceramic, small, could get past most scanners. And here we are.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:39 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Bookman, it's basically a zip gun made out of PLA (and maybe polycarbonate?) and is very unreliable, which is probably why they branched out to component parts. Some states have laws that allow people to bypass serial numbers if they create a certain percentage of the gun themselves.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:45 AM on July 11


Not that big of a deal, really. In the US if it's legal to buy it it's legal to make it yourself ... It's always easier and usually cheaper just to go by a gun.

Except you are on the internet, not in the US. In many places (where I am included) it is very, very difficult to get your hands on a gun on a short or medium timescale and it's reasonably difficult in the long term. Most people rather like it that way.

Here there's a current story about a man that managed, after quite some effort, to get a handgun and shoot his kids. It took him at least three tries to get the gun permit and there's now a discussion as to why he could get it on the third go. Someone like that able to get plans and make it themself? I'm pretty happy with that being both very difficult and very illegal, if the US could refrain from exporting its fucked up stupid problems that'd be great.
posted by deadwax at 12:56 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


Guns are a thousand year old technology from China. They're not an American "stupid problem", they're a worldwide issue.

Sooner rather than later, the ability to 3D print firearms will become technically trivial. People outside of the US would have developed it no matter how this particular court case went.
posted by Spacelegoman at 1:36 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


We don't need to give Cody Wilson — aka the Hatreon guy, funder of Anglin, weev and many more — any more air.
posted by scruss at 1:44 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Printing guns only gets you halfway. It seems to me that printing bullet casings won't work as well. In countries with very heavy gun restrictions (like Japan) it won't be trivial to make ammo for these. Gunpowder is obtainable I assume, but you can't just buy bullet casings and reloading equipment the way you can in the US. Of course, it's possible to make your own metal casings, but then again it was already possible to make your own gun that way too before 3D printing.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:54 AM on July 11


They're not an American "stupid problem", they're a worldwide issue.

That's correct, but go and have a look at pretty much any statistic on gun violence in the developed world and the US is a vastly oversized presence, often comically so, with an oversized gun industry and culture to match. People wanting to push free access to designs like this are starting from a vastly better resourced position when they are in the US, be that in cultural support or access to designs, and in that sense they are very much US exports to the rest of the world.

I feel I've got a right to be shitty about that, inevitable (and I question that) or not.
posted by deadwax at 2:02 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


But also --- it won't exactly negate strong gun control. Even in countries like Japan there are guns, and people could have (and someone probably did at some point) make them themselves. However, when gun ownership is almost completely prohibited and socially unacceptable, very few people will choose to own guns even if they have the option to print them or whatever.

In turn, having an incredibly low rate of gun ownership will drastically reduce violence. Gun control opponents love to talk about how criminals don't worry about the law, but thats a small subset of gun crime (and sure, its true even in Japan -- the Yakuza do have guns). There is also a ton of crime by people who were not choosing to enter into an official "life of crime" --- domestic violence, revenge, jealousy, arguments, plain old racism --- lots of motivations for shootings where people were not "criminals" beforehand, just gun owners.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:03 AM on July 11 [6 favorites]


To be very clear: If Wilson had just restricted his website to only be accessible within the US,

How, exactly, is that going to be done on a global network? A click-wrap contact that says "I agree I'm in the US of A"?

My memory is the US government at one time printed up a 30 page instruction manual on how to make a gun from stuff lying around. I guess that manual was simpler to find on dial up BBSes and from the pages of loopamatics than via a search engine today. Or in France where it was tossed from airplanes back in the day.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:26 AM on July 11


Reading between the lines...At the core of Wilson's claim was the idea that code is speech, and speech is free. Going beyond distributing gun plans, doesn't this open-up all manner of code-based "weapons" becoming free and legal to create and distribute? Viruses, worms, etc?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:40 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


imagine they will be much more fragile than a conventionally manufactured weapon. What material do most 3D printer use? Would it be able to withstand the energy released from firing one bullet?

From what I understand, these guns in reality are terribly unsafe. You are significantly likely to blow yourself up using them, given enough time.
posted by corb at 6:26 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


doesn't this open-up all manner of code-based "weapons" becoming free and legal to create and distribute? Viruses, worms, etc?

I think it could still make a distinction between sharing the code and executing the code.
posted by RobotHero at 6:35 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Not that big of a deal, really. In the US if it's legal to buy it it's legal to make it yourself ... It's always easier and usually cheaper just to go by a gun.

I own guns already; someday I might give the DIY varieties a try but that would be purely as an interesting way to spend some time. In the context of the US, going to the store is going to be cheaper, faster, easier, and better quality.

My memory is the US government at one time printed up a 30 page instruction manual on how to make a gun from stuff lying around. I guess that manual was simpler to find on dial up BBSes and from the pages of loopamatics than via a search engine today. Or in France where it was tossed from airplanes back in the day.

I assume this was a how-to manual for the Sten gun? The internet is full of DIY instructions and videos for those (example); the hardest part looks like figuring out which set of instructions to follow.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:44 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


The number one factor that makes the US stand out in gun violence worldwide is gun ownership, so in many ways yes, this is an American problem. The bigger problem in the US itself is that gun laws and the ways they are applied, from the 2nd Amendment on down, are inextricably tied to white supremacy. US gun culture is also born out of and dependent on white supremacy, but it has has collectively decided to just flat-out ignore it, and that's on a good day. In turn, white supremacy is empowered by these factors, which is far more of a problem than just having so many guns to start with. And for all their whining about "free speech," there has been a disturbing rise in the use and/or threat of guns by gun owners to deny other Americans--especially marginalized people, whom polling show mostly don't want guns in their communities at all--the free exercise of their religion, their freedom of speech, freedom of the press, their right to peaceably assemble, and their ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The inability of US gun culture to even acknowledge or even address these problems, let alone fix them, precludes the fantasy that this has somehow made gun ownership more democratic.

Also, up until the middle of the 20th century, the legal jurisprudence on gun ownership was overwhelmingly based on a collective right to bear arms, not individual. As such, the current defense of gun rights is already based on a relatively maximalist interpretation. So now comes along a guy who thinks that that interpretation is too restrictive, and so plans to make all of those factors worse, and who (surprise!*) it turns out actually supports white supremacy. He can go on about the "freedom" this gives people, but it's clear that he knows that ultimately this won't mean more freedom for the vast majority of people, especially marginalized communities, but rather a hardening of the white supremacist status quo. He's okay with that, we shouldn't be.


* NOTE: not actually a surprise.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:05 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


It seems weird to me that it would ever have been illegal. (And now that I read the comments I see that it wasn't really.) Anyway, I don't find it too troubling. Making a zipgun is something any halfway competent 14 year old has been able to do for decades. My dad built one in the 1950s. Dangerous and stupid, particularly when you can buy a reliable firearm, but there it is. Perhaps a 3d printed firearm could be safer than something hacked together with duck tape and nails? Which would be good?

I have a buddy who wants to get into gunsmithing as a retirement project. He's setting up his machine shop, and as someone who loves making things, I really understand that impulse, even though I'm not interested in guns myself. 3D printed components seems related.
posted by surlyben at 7:46 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


The current generation of printed guns may be unreliable and dangerous. However, technology and techniques evolve. Isn't it reasonable to assume that what we are seeing here are the earliest developments in this area? We can look to other areas (e.g., home computer printers, which were at first typewriters, then came daisy wheels, dot matrix, laser, inkjet, etc.) to see progress from big, primitive and expensive, to small, advanced, and cheap. Similarly, 3-D printing isn't great right now, but it was worse not long ago, and is getting better all the time. There are now 3-D printers now that print metal. Can't we reasonable predict that home gun-making technology will improve, and take advantage of new developments, as well as produce entirely new approaches to overcoming the limitations in the current approaches?
posted by StrawberryPie at 8:02 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


The big concern here is that it will soon become possible for a small group of extremists with a few thousand dollars to spend on a used CNC mill to produce an unlimited number of cheap, reliable, untraceable, fully automatic weapons. Weapons that use commodity ammunition that can be untraceably purchased with cash at gun shows, Walmarts, and sporting goods stores. Weapons that no government entity will know about until an extremist group does something terrible.

As horrible as the US gun problem is, there really aren't that many fully automatic weapons in circulation. This has the potential to change that in a way that can't easily be stopped.

I propose a solution based on anti-counterfeiting measures built into printers, copiers, and photo editing software for decades. These are pursuant to laws that prohibit realistic, full-size reproductions of US currency. If those laws can stand up to the 1st Amendment, then similar restrictions on CNC mills and 3D printers should be able to stand up to the 2nd Amendment.

It's not a perfect or complete solution, but it would at least be a start.
posted by jedicus at 8:09 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


The big concern here is that it will soon become possible for a small group of extremists with a few thousand dollars to spend on a used CNC mill to produce an unlimited number of cheap, reliable, untraceable, fully automatic weapons.

The article doesn't mention that Wilson bankrolls Hatreon, the alt-right fundraising platform. When you take that into consideration with the violent Last Stand fantasies, I think it's a reasonable conjecture that the aim of Wilson's project is to empower small groups of extremists with unlimited automatic weapons.
posted by Iridic at 8:15 AM on July 11 [12 favorites]


The issue isn’t the Liberator and 3D-printed weapons, which do tend to explosively delaminate at first use. It’s Ghost Gunner and CNC-milled weapons. You ought to be scared shitless of those, especially given the networks these ideas and techniques are circulating in.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:04 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Bit of a tempest in a teakettle; this seems like the government admitting that it can't actually control the spread of files on the Internet, and trying to do so is a waste of time. The rest of us pretty much had that figured out in the late 90s, so welcome to the club, guys. Maybe you could have asked the RIAA how that works out?

I'm not really convinced that 3D printing really changes the game in terms of gunsmithing all that much. There are a couple of designs where, for reasons more of law than of engineering, the part that's considered the "firearm" isn't subject to much mechanical stress and you can, if you really want to, 3D print it. You can also make it out of a block of aluminum in any halfway-decent machine shop, or make it out of a stack of steel plates cut on a water-jet machine held together with bolts—that's how I'd do it, if I were going to—and that technique is feasible to replicate with a Dremel tool if you're really motivated. People build guns in the Khyber Pass with 18th century tools, where the contents of an average suburban Home Depot would seem like a dream come true—they're just not that hard to build if you're in an industrialized country with access to power tools and good-quality metal.

There are 3D printing technologies that can make parts that are almost as strong as milled aluminum (some of the high vacuum electron beam systems are used to make rocket engine components now), but they cost enough that you might as well just buy a horizontal milling machine and make yourself a receiver traditionally.

That said, we could probably cut out the current batch of "script kiddie" level firearms manufacturing—chuckleheads turning out AR-15 receivers on Makerbot printers—if we changed the legal definition of a firearm from the receiver to the firing chamber. That's the part that is the most difficult to manufacture as it's under the most mechanical stress, and thus has to be made out of fairly good steel. But even then, it's not like high-quality steel is especially hard to find. A good Grade 8 bolt from Fastenal will do. But it would up the ante somewhat.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:16 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


It’s Ghost Gunner and CNC-milled weapons. You ought to be scared shitless of those

At least in the US: Why? The networks these ideas and techniques are circulating can just go to a store and buy all the guns they want, and small groups of them must surely have had the capacity to make simple submachine guns for decades.

It just seems to me that the intersection of {can't legally buy guns}, {enough resources to mill receiver}, {not enough resources for machine shop for smg}, {no connections to criminal world for illegal gun} is a small set.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:44 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


For one thing, the “Ghost” part: these are unserialized, fully automatic weapons. They’re also not rudimentary SMGs, but entirely interoperable AR-15s, with an extremely robust aftermarket in high-capacity magazines/Picatinny-rail-based accessories (sights, lights, bipods, and so on).
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:52 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


The issue isn’t the Liberator and 3D-printed weapons, which do tend to explosively delaminate at first use. It’s Ghost Gunner and CNC-milled weapons.

Has the Ghost Gunner improved since I saw it last? I seem to recall it was only capable of turning 80% lowers into full AR semi-automatic lowers.
posted by corb at 11:07 AM on July 11


My understanding is fully-automatic lowers.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:12 AM on July 11


there really aren't that many fully automatic weapons in circulation. This has the potential to change that in a way that can't easily be stopped.

There aren't that many fully automatic weapons in circulation because the penalties for having an illegal FA weapon are really severe, and not many people want one bad enough to take that risk. It's not because they are difficult to create currently, or were in the pre-3D-printing past. Both AR and AK designs, as well as a bunch of others, can be converted from semi to (inelegant) FA with fairly simple, Dremel-and-drill modifications (relative to making a new gun), so if you really wanted a machine gun that'd be the way to do it.

The limitation has always been the risk/return of building and possessing an illegal FA weapon, not the difficulty of making one.

The same is true with an "unserialized" gun. If you really want one, you just take any receiver and grind off the serial number. Boom, unserialized gun. (Also, Federal prison!) Building your own gun gives you an excuse for possessing a gun without a serial number (since you are not required to put one on there, at least in most people's interpretation of the relevant rules), but only if you're the original manufacturer; it can't be transferred to anyone else that way, so it's a bit of an albatross. It has some appeal to the Alex Jones / Infowars set, but the actual impact is pretty minor, given that no central database or registry of guns exists in the US. (If there was actually a risk of such a database being created, then it would matter, but you have to be something of a conspiracy nut to think that's imminent.)

I propose a solution based on anti-counterfeiting measures built into printers, copiers, and photo editing software for decades.

I don't think this would be effective; the way that desktop CNC and 3D printing have developed is not much like how color laser printers became commonplace, and there's no single or small number of manufacturers you could squeeze to get them to put in what's effectively DRM-like code into the final product. The user community, at least at the hobbyist end, has shown a strong preference for open source toolchains, all the way down to the microcontroller software. (I'm pretty confident that if a government could sneak subversive logic into a commonly-used CAM/CNC workflow, that would be an intelligence community / deep state type capability, the sort of thing you sit on until someone you really don't like is building a submarine propeller or SAM engine or something, and then you fudge it very subtly.)

But if you look at the lack of proliferation of illegal FA guns—given that they're not difficult to produce—that's your regulatory model. The key is that not very many gun owners want machine guns (sure they're entertaining—but not for very long, they go through ammunition quickly, they have very little advantage in many combat scenarios, basically they're impractical for an individual to own), but the ones that do can save up and get a legal one, which actually makes it more of a status symbol because everyone knows a legit Class III gun is like $10k and up. If you show up to most ranges with an illegal FA conversion, even people with no love for big gubmint may well drop a dime on you, or at least tell you to get lost quickly. Hell, even asking about auto-sears or illegal conversions on many gun forums will get you banned. Because the regulation doesn't try to front-run what most interested parties actually want, compliance is pretty good, and no heavyhanded technological measures are required.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:49 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


Ghost gunner is designed to complete 80% lowers on semi-automatic weapons and not automatic weapons.

Luty's designs for relatively easy to make at home, open bolt, fully automatic sub-machine guns have been in the wild for a long, long time. Kadin2048s take on why there aren't more is dead on.

Wilson is a white supremacist leech looking to make a buck and for an ever-extending moment of fame.
posted by Seamus at 12:52 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


jedicus: "I propose a solution based on anti-counterfeiting measures built into printers, copiers, and photo editing software for decades. These are pursuant to laws that prohibit realistic, full-size reproductions of US currency. If those laws can stand up to the 1st Amendment, then similar restrictions on CNC mills and 3D printers should be able to stand up to the 2nd Amendment.

It's not a perfect or complete solution, but it would at least be a start.
"

Implementation of that restriction was buck easy because the desired outcome had to include the DRM image. A 3D printed firearm lacking any particular icon will still work.
posted by Mitheral at 1:15 PM on July 11


I'm not especially impressed by all the ZOMG printed guns stuff.

Sure, maybe at some point in the future there's some concern. Right now? The absolute best they've been able to come up with is a really awful zip gun that is really likely to explode in your hand. Because 3D printing using fairly inexpensive plastics is not going to produce guns worth talking about.

3D printing using metals is a long way off.

And, zip guns have been around since guns have existed. You can always build a crappy gun that's likely to kill you by malfunctioning with the stuff found in any machine shop. All the talk about 3D printing making gun control irrelevant is just NRA fetishists fantasizing.

This isn't even a tempest in a teapot, it's a fantasy of a tempest imagined by a guy who wishes he had a teapot.
posted by sotonohito at 2:06 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


doesn't this open-up all manner of code-based "weapons" becoming free and legal to create and distribute? Viruses, worms, etc?

Hmm, I wonder if this argument can be used by copyfight activists to distribute DRM-cracking code. I don't know if they should argue free speech, which would seem the most obvious, or clam that anti-DRM hacks are weapons against corporate enemies.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:53 PM on July 11


Ghost gunner is designed to complete 80% lowers on semi-automatic weapons and not automatic weapons.

I'm sure this is what they say for public consumption, out of a healthy sense of self-preservation, but see the first comment here, evidently from a member of Wilson's Defense Distributed team. In any event, the conversion to full auto is not technically challenging.

I agree with those of you who have pointed out the very good and rational reasons why full-auto fire is tactically counterproductive, but remind you that many of the same things are true of bump stocks, and consider the size and composition of the market for those. Trust me on this: the kind of person who's captivated by the mojo of a fully-automatic weapon will not be dissuaded by arguments about accuracy, barrel overheating or fire discipline.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:19 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


There have been a lot of discussions over the years about First Amendment based defenses to the DMCA and similar WIPO-implementation laws. Back in the late 90s people put the DeCSS source code into poem, song, painting, and I think maybe even a couple of tattoo formats. The AACS encryption key got printed on T-shirts and coffee cups (it's only 16 bytes long so it's pretty easy; sadly it doesn't fit well into printable ASCII, but in B64 it's "CfkRAp1041vYQVbFY1aIwA").

I don't think any of these cases were really ever litigated, but it's certainly a well-trod road and a pretty good way to make the people trying to censor you look ridiculous.

Anyway, there's no shortage of mechanical drawings and plans for firearms around, and there are lots of books that will teach you ("for informational purposes only") how to make submachine guns and all sorts of other stuff, if you want. The argument for restricting 3D printer plans seems pretty iffy.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:30 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


In regards to bullet and ammunition control, I believe that the Colombian Army was the first major fighting force to adopt polymer cased ammo. The FARC was collecting spent brass army casings to reload. Making gun powder is relatively easy, crushed matchheads heads can be used as a quick and dirty primer and lead bullets are simple to cast. But the FARC didn't have facilities to spin new brass casings and polymer cases are not reloadable.

Or so I heard on a podcast.
posted by nestor_makhno at 6:28 PM on July 11


A coworker brought in a 3D printed AR lower the other day. No serials, completely blank. Made from nice solid aluminum stock. It felt just like the M-16A2 lowers that I used to use in the day.

Which means that he can buy an upper, accessories, etc. and have a nicely functional AR-15 clone with no purchase history or tracking. Add a bump stock and voila! A lighter wallet, sore shoulder, empty magazine, and a lot of rounds downrange.
posted by pdoege at 8:49 PM on July 11


Considering that the NRA gets most of its money from manufacturers of weaponry, I honestly can't imagine the organization liking the low-cost competition. Now, how they'd justify opposing this to its loudest 'gun nut' constituency, that's going to be a problem. And I love seeing evil entities like the NRA having problems.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:30 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


pdoege: "A coworker brought in a 3D printed AR lower the other day. No serials, completely blank. Made from nice solid aluminum stock. "

Was it printed or machined? It's a lot harder to get a durable part from an additive process compared to a subtractive one. CNC machining has been able to crank out parts like the lower for quite a while but it is more capitally expensive than printing (leaving aside the usability of the product) and maybe a smidge more skill.
posted by Mitheral at 9:58 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


oneswellfoop: "Considering that the NRA gets most of its money from manufacturers of weaponry, I honestly can't imagine the organization liking the low-cost competition."

It's almost always going to be cheaper to buy a mass market commodity part than to print it yourself (all bets are off once you are paying for marketing, design and lawyers). The guys producing mundane gun parts have nothing to worry about for the foreseeable future.
posted by Mitheral at 10:01 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Trust me on this: the kind of person who's captivated by the mojo of a fully-automatic weapon will not be dissuaded by arguments about accuracy, barrel overheating or fire discipline.

Yeah, but those fuckers aren't *so far* the shitlords who actually end up killing a bunch of people. Actually all of those concerns are things that would make them less dangerous to a crowd than e.g. the Las Vegas shooter.

Again, treat it like cars. You want to build some rocketship bullshit that goes 300 mph and take it out to Bonneville, fine, file a permit and go get yourself dead. Meanwhile, perfectly legal automobiles are killing literally over 35k people a year in the US. That's over a percent of the population! Every year!

But, and it's a big 'but,' cars have to have insurance and licenses and speed limits and infrastructure. WTF do guns even have to have? That sweet NRA money?
posted by aspersioncast at 10:20 PM on July 11


That's 1/100th of 1 percent annually. Still a huge number but not quite 1 in 100 people.
posted by Mitheral at 10:59 PM on July 11


Oh oops you're totally right.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:07 AM on July 12


ah, but those fuckers aren't *so far* the shitlords who actually end up killing a bunch of people. Actually all of those concerns are things that would make them less dangerous to a crowd than e.g. the Las Vegas shooter.

Am I misunderstanding you? It’s precisely people like the Las Vegas shooter I have in mind.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:00 AM on July 12


This isn't even a tempest in a teapot, it's a fantasy of a tempest imagined by a guy who wishes he had a teapot.

I think it's more a canary, or if you want to stick with the weather metaphor it's a red sky at morning. Eventually 3D printing (or, probably more likely for this application, CNCing) will get to where it can make quality parts. It may be that it'll require a different design than you'd make if you are casting stuff, but once you design it right once it's just as cheap to email it to 100 people as 1.

The question is whether we listen to the canary and do reasonable things as a result. Get smarter about gunpowder the way we got marginally smarter about fertilizers that you can mix with diesel. Write laws with penalties that are sufficiently sky-high that they discourage people even if their chance of getting pinched is one in a million. Actually enforce anything on people who have more chutzpa than melanin.
posted by phearlez at 10:11 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Am I misunderstanding you? It’s precisely people like the Las Vegas shooter I have in mind.

Paddock had, and I quote, "fourteen AR-15 rifles (twelve of which had bump stocks and 100-round magazines), eight AR-10 rifles, a bolt-action rifle, and a revolver."

These weapons were all legally obtained. Paddock didn't need to be dissuaded by any arguments about accuracy, etc., and he didn't actually need a fully automatic weapon.

I'm arguing in part that he'd probably have done far less damage *with* a fully-automatic weapon, particularly some 3D printed DIY plastic thing, compared to the field-tested, inspected, ballistics calibrated military firearms he actually used, which he was able to buy without apparently raising any flags at all. Why buy a CNC mill when you can just *buy an AR-15?*


Unless things get markedly cheaper and more exact in the 3D printing sphere, there are still far more effective and inexpensive ways to make significantly better guns without pricey makerspace toys - see illegal gun manufacture in the Philippines.

I'm not entirely convinced much of the FUD over 3D printing guns isn't coming directly from industries who'd like to control some of the things that would actually be more practical or cheaper to print to spec ad hoc than buy at a premium, e.g. overpriced sections of car exteriors.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:03 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Eventually 3D printing (or, probably more likely for this application, CNCing) will get to where it can make quality parts.

CNCing already makes quality parts, but the cost isn't low for DIY. The only reason to make your own gun parts is either as a nerdy hobby or because you want to avoid the whole "gun registry" thing. For cheap and quality, you just go to the store.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:32 PM on July 12


For cheap and quality, you just go to the store.

Exactly. Australia can maybe worry about 3D printed guns eventually helping someone subvert the gun registry - the US's lunatic obsession with firearms obviates the need for anything approaching that anytime soon.

I'm sure eventually someone will manage to murder someone with a 3D printed weapon, but in the intervening years we're losing -- and again math ain't my strong suit but this is an easy one -- something like 96 people a day to gun violence in this country, and most of those weapons are obtained legally.

We have more guns than people.

posted by aspersioncast at 7:30 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


because you want to avoid the whole "gun registry" thing

There is no gun registry (as perhaps your scare quotes signify) at the Federal level, and only three states and the Marianas Islands even try; the creation of one nationally is prohibited by law, and that's spectacularly unlikely to change in the future. The only people who think it's something worth planning for are Infowars-reading nutbars, and in my experience there aren't that many of them in the maker community. Some, sure, but in general, 3D printed guns are basically a niche hobby right now; it's basically the the Venn diagram intersection between people who are into "maker" type stuff, and people who think guns are cool—therefore it's not a real stretch to think making a gun would be cool.

There's nothing you can do with a 3D printed gun that you can't do with one you can just purchase on the regular market, and a lot that you can't (resell it, for instance). Heavyhanded regulation is likely to have significant side-effects on other user groups—putting DRM-like features in 3D printers is going to royally piss off the open source / maker communities, making gunpowder hard to obtain is going to piss off people who load their own ammunition (which is its own perfectly legal, extremely nerdy hobby), trying to censor or prevent the distribution of plans or CAD files is going to fire up people nervous about online censorship or Internet regulation—and all for no particular effect. The threat of 3D printed guns is entirely hypothetical, but the downsides to trying to regulate them would not be. It seems like an extremely low ROI, if you are trying to decide where to expend political resources.

As I said in an earlier comment, the most effective regulation always happens when you are working with the support of the community under regulation and have their buy-in, because otherwise the cost of achieving compliance quickly becomes prohibitive. If at some point in the future there are actual, non-hypothetical threats that are unique to 3D printed guns, such that everyone basically agrees that something needs to be done about them—in the same way that most firearms enthusiasts will, albeit grudgingly, admit the need for (some) regulation of machine guns—then it'll be time to talk and work something out that everyone can live with. There's nothing close to that consensus right now.

We're not even enforcing the most basic "people who beat their wives shouldn't buy guns"-type laws, despite there being a widespread consensus that, yes, people who beat their wives (or have similar domestic-abuse convictions) probably shouldn't be able to buy guns. If we can't do that effectively, what chance do we have of effectively regulating, and achieving compliance over, a bunch of emerging, rapidly-changing technologies and what would be an extremely hostile, probably gleefully noncompliant, not-a-whit-of-consensus user community? The answer is zero.

There's no sense trying to climb to the top of the tree for fruit that may not even be there, when there's so much staring us in the face here on the ground.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:53 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


I Made an Untraceable AR-15 'Ghost Gun' in My Office—and It Was Easy (Andy Greenburg for Wired, 2015)
This is my ghost gun. To quote the rifleman's creed, there are many like it, but this one is mine. It’s called a "ghost gun"—a term popularized by gun control advocates but increasingly adopted by gun lovers too—because it's an untraceable semiautomatic rifle with no serial number, existing beyond law enforcement's knowledge and control. And if I feel a strangely personal connection to this lethal, libertarian weapon, it's because I made it myself, in a back room of WIRED’s downtown San Francisco office on a cloudy afternoon.

I did this mostly alone. I have virtually no technical understanding of firearms and a Cro-Magnon man’s mastery of power tools. Still, I made a fully metal, functional, and accurate AR-15. To be specific, I made the rifle's lower receiver; that's the body of the gun, the only part that US law defines and regulates as a "firearm." All I needed for my entirely legal DIY gunsmithing project was about six hours, a 12-year-old’s understanding of computer software, an $80 chunk of aluminum, and a nearly featureless black 1-cubic-foot desktop milling machine called the Ghost Gunner.

The Ghost Gunner is a $1,500 computer-numerical-controlled (CNC) mill sold by Defense Distributed, the gun access advocacy group that gained notoriety in 2012 and 2013 when it began creating 3-D-printed gun parts and the Liberator, the world’s first fully 3-D-printed pistol. While the political controversy surrounding the notion of a lethal plastic weapon that anyone can download and print has waxed and waned, Defense Distributed's DIY gun-making has advanced from plastic to metal. Like other CNC mills, the Ghost Gunner uses a digital file to carve objects out of aluminum. With the first shipments of this sold-out machine starting this spring, the group intends to make it vastly easier for normal people to fabricate gun parts out of a material that's practically as strong as the stuff used in industrially manufactured weapons.
Ghost Gunner is now even more affordable! You can get Ghost Gunner 2 for a $250 downpayment! Call today!

I'm unclear on what the GG2 will produce, because they also sell unfinished receivers, or "80 percent lower", which as described by Wikipedia are:
partially completed receivers with no serial numbers. Purchasers must perform their own finishing work in order to make the receiver usable. The finishing of receivers for sale or distribution by unlicensed persons is against US law. Because an unfinished 80% receiver is not a firearm, purchasers do not need to pass a background check. The resulting firearm is sometimes called a "ghost gun". An AR-15 variant made from an 80% receiver was used in the 2013 Santa Monica shooting.
Hoo-rah for freedom of speech and commerce, particularly the freedom to buy a not-gun and kill people.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:03 AM on July 16


The GG2 is a device for automating the last 20% of an "80%" receiver or frame. It's part CNC mill and part jig. I believe you put the 80% part into a jig, then put that into the machine, then run the program. Compared to a "real" CNC mill it's basically a toy, but the jigs are pretty clever. And they do seem to have made a name for themselves.

If you wanted to put GG out of business overnight, there are two ways that come to mind: one is (as mentioned earlier) to move from serializing receivers to serializing new-make firing chambers. The gun industry probably wouldn't care much, with the right carve-outs for things like the Sig P320, but it would be a fairly big change.

Alternately, you could just say that anyone with a dedicated GG-type device, or maybe just anyone renting time on such a device to other people (which I think is how they expect people to pay for one, given their weird down-payment financing thing) is prima facie "in the business" of firearms manufacture and needs to obtain a FFL-07. I think that would only be a rulemaking change internal to the BATFE so it's sort of an administrative insta-kill.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:50 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


« Older I recognized your foul stench when I was brought...   |   Branching out Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.