Note: We do not promote using any of our 3d-Printers to print any kind of firearm. This is a hot topic and one we wanted to explor.
3D Printed Guns
We do not need statistics to convince us that shooting incidents have risen to alarming heights. A lot of unstable people get their hands on guns because it is easy for anyone, regardless of age and mental health, to get one. There are calls for stricter gun control yet there are groups who claim that the right for self-protection must be respected.
3D printing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. It allows the creation of complex shapes using minimal resources and shorter time compared to traditional manufacturing devices.
Guns are now being 3D-printed and this has caused worry. 3D printing makes guns more accessible. Anybody who has the digital file and a desktop printer can make a gun. 3D-printed guns can get through a metal detector because they don’t metal parts. 3D-printed guns are causing people to worry. Do we have laws in place that can guarantee our safety? After 3D-printed guns, what comes next? On the other hand, are 3D printed guns dangerous when they’re made of plastic? Do they even work?
History of 3D Printed Guns
Cody Wilson is a crypto-anarchist who designed the first functional 3D-printed gun in 2013. He is also the founder of Defense Distributed, a gunsmith organization in Texas. Liberator, the first 3D-printed gun, is a one-shot pistol. When he uploaded the 3D files for Liberator, it was downloaded over 100,000 times in just two days. This alarmed the US Department of State and Defense Distributed was forced to take the model down. This started an ongoing legal battle between the techno-anarchist and the government.
While most of the 3D-printed guns around are in the form of a pistol, Defense Distributed have also released 3D-printable parts for semi-automatic weapons. These were immediately confiscated by the authorities.
Because the blueprints for these 3D-printed guns are available in the internet, they have made its way across the world and have reached the hands of authorities and criminals alike. Government bodies saw the need to strictly ban 3D-printed guns and even 3D models of firearms. The creators of 3D-printed guns claim that these weapons are not a threat but countries with serious gun-control laws are exaggerating the fear for these weapons.
The files for 3D-printed guns are based on Liberator. These are free to download but difficult to find. It nevertheless proved that a firearm and be made from thermoplastic material. Except for the metal firing pin and the actual bullet, every component of the Liberator can be 3D-printed.
Wilson is hell-bent in his campaign for 3D printed firearms and continues to advocate for gun rights. DIY firearms are accessible and undetectable, and can be easily abused. There are countries whose laws are equating 3D-printed guns with traditional guns. Some even consider having a 3D model of a firearm as illegal possession of a weapon.
The latest court settlement between Wilson and the US government shows that if can be difficult for other countries to stop the production of 3D printed guns within their borders. What are the existing laws that prevents people from doing so?
- USA – According to the government, the Liberator violates the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Wilson then filed a federal suit versus the State Department. In September 2016, the court junked his request for preliminary injunction citing that national security is more important than the first amendment right to freedom of speech.
Even though 3D gun files are considered by the court as illegal, Wilson’s files have made its way through online cracks. A lot of 3D printed guns have been confiscated by the US police.
According to the Undetectable Firearms Act, it is illegal to make guns that cannot be detected by a metal detector. 3D printed guns are made from PLA or ABS and are not allowed in the US because of the absence of a metal plate in the printed body. In the states where firearm ownership is allowed, like California, 3D guns are required to be properly approved and registered. But then, the implementation of the law is another matter.
3D printing is not the only means to make firearms part in the sly. CNC milling is another way to make DIY firearms. It is more dangerous than 3D printing because it can work with metals. In February 2017, a man in California was caught doing this and was sent to prison.
The latest settlement in Wilson’s case allows the DIY firearms blueprints to be back online. It is now up to the authorities how to deal with this. Truth be told, 3D printing is not the best method in DIY firearms because the technology is not advanced yet.
- Australia – Known for its strict firearms legislation, Australia has limited its citizens access to traditional weapons. 3D-printed guns are then considered as an alternative by those who want to have guns. Weapons production facilities that use 3D printers to make machine guns were discovered.
To fight the rise of 3D printed guns, New South Wales passed a law wherein mere possession of 3D gun files is equal to actual possession of a 3D gun. Some Australian senators do not see 3D printed guns as threats and they say that restrictions may hinder the advancement of 3D printing in general. The opponents of 3D printed guns maintain that allowing the 3D printing of guns can lead to production of bigger weapons in the future.
- Europe and the United Kingdom – When the files for Liberator became available online, most of the leading countries that downloaded it are in Europe. The most downloads are in Spain then US, Brazil, Germany and UK. But, the strict gun control laws in Europe don’t consider the 3D-printed guns as a threat. The threat, if you call it that, is confined to television. 3D printed guns are seen in an Italian crime TV series.
- Asia and the Middle East – 3D printed gun reached the eastern world. In Japan, a citizen made a six-shot revolver based on Wilson’s design. He was sentenced to prison for doing it and encouraging others to follow. In Singapore, do not think twice about having a 3D printed gun because possession of one is punishable by death. In China, companies with 3D printers are required to register as “special industry”. They need to submit a list of their equipment, the security measures they have and the names of employees handling the equipment.
In the Middle East, there are concerns that the ISIS could be using 3D printers to make bombs.
The 3D gun models and printable gun designs are distributed in the dark recesses of the internet. A recent study found an alarming rise in 3D gun models and computer-aided files for firearms. While it’s true that CAD files and gun models are not as big a threat as the actual firearms sold illegally, but it can be as dangerous given time. Take note that 3D gun designs can be had for merely $12. On top of that, these files can be resold many times over. When metal 3D printer become affordable, 3D guns will no longer be a minor issue.
Should We Really Fear 3D Printed Guns?
Now that we know how 3D printed guns came about and how it has made its way to people, does it deserve the way we reacted to it? Are the fears warranted or are they a bit overboard?
The fear is rooted not in the functionality of these DIY weapons but the fact that they can be easily made, and one can easily get away with it. There may be strict gun control laws, but anybody can make 3D-printed guns, even criminals and those who are mentally unstable. Worse, these firearms are untraceable because they are printed without serial numbers. At present, 3D desktop printing cannot create high-quality firearms, but we know that this can change. We know that technology advances and given time, high-quality weapons can be made at home.
Having the necessary 3D files and a desktop printer, it can be easy to produce a plastic gun. These guns cannot perform though. Actually, 3D-printed guns can endanger the shooter as much as his victim. They easily break apart and the parts bend or get deformed after use. All it’s good for is a single shot then it either breaks or fail. The act of firing a bullet requires power that thermoplastics cannot provide. What about metal 3D printing? Yes, a metal 3D printer can make a fully-functioning gun, but they are extremely expensive, it makes no sense for criminals to spend for it when they can get cheap actual guns in the black market. When it comes to detectability, plastic guns may make it through metal detectors, but they’re ineffective anyway. A gun, to be effective, must have at least a metal firing pin and they are detectable.
The Latest News
Issues about the 3D printed guns have been around for a long time now. The threat of DIY guns went down when Defense Distributed was ordered to remove their 3D gun models from their website. However, a recent court settlement with the Trump administration created a precedent that allowed the files to go back online legally. The settlement states that banning these files was in violation of Defense Distributed’s right to expression. It also claims that non-automatic firearms up to .50 caliber are not military firearms.
Last Tuesday, Defense Distributed was ordered by a federal judge in Seattle to stop the release of 3D printable gun files. Defense Distributed complied with the TRO and announced this compliance on their site. While it appears that the blueprints were taken down, they were just moved from Defense Distributed’s website to a new site – CodelsFreeSpeech.com
The website includes download links to Liberator and other 3D models, excerpts of the US Constitution and a list of pro-gun rights. The organization was scheduled to release the files on August 1, 2018 but blueprints made its way to the Defense Distributed website 5 days in advance. Since its release, more than 1000 people had downloaded 3D plans for the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles.
There are bills filed seeking to prohibit the online publication of 3D printable files. They also want guns to have at least one non-removable metallic component, so they cannot slip past metal detectors. In Canada, citizens who are found making 3D printed guns without a license will be sent to jail.
The Trump Administration allows the 3D-printable gun files to be available online. Nine different states joined together and file a lawsuit against the government. They are challenging the administration’s move to make weapons easily accessible to dangerous criminals. Whether the lawsuit succeeds or not, it’s evident that Defense Distributed has decided to make DIY weapons available to all. Note that they uploaded the models five days ahead of the announced date.
There is no reason to fear 3D printed guns at this time. Have you noticed that there is no crime yet that involves the use of a DIY weapon? It’s because they are not reliable, and in most cases, harder to come across compared to the actual firearms in the black market. Given this, we still have to keep an eye on its possible threat in the future when the 3D printing technology advances.