The infamous crime boss Carmine Falcone once said, “you always fear what you don’t understand.”
Most of the recent news stories seem to not understand either 3D printing or firearms. The news has been telling me Defense Distributed will release 3D files to the internet. This data will give you information for producing a firearm on your home 3D printer that will be undetected by metal detectors, will give you access to build assault rifles in the comfort of your own home, and will allow you to bypass background checks AND metal detectors. Criminals anywhere can just hit print and have an assault rifle in their hands.
Okay, let’s do some myth busting. If we all better understand the topics at hand, maybe we can all calm down a bit.
Myth 1: 3D printing has made it possible to manufacture firearms at home, or at least removed the cost barriers.
It hasn’t really changed anything legally speaking. It has always been legal to manufacture a firearm at home. Nothing can really practically prevent a felon from tinkering away in their garage and putting together a firearm. Zip guns are a very real thing and have been around for decades. Zip guns have a cost barrier of about $25.
3D printing is in fact a higher barrier than buying an 80% complete firearm and using jigs and hand tools to finish. 80% receivers for weapons like AR-15’s, AKM’s, Glock’s, and CETME’s can all be produced at home from readily available 80% receivers (and have been available for some time now). Nearly all of them cost less than a high quality 3D printer and use skills commonly taught in highschool shop classes. 3D printers are easy to use, but they are not quite the plug and play tools that the media portrays. Like any manufacturing process, some skill is involved.
Myth 2: Ghost Guns are as horrible as they sound.
The media flips between two definitions of “ghost guns” within the same conversation about 3D printed guns. The common (and real) definition of a ghost gun is a firearm without a serial number. Federal laws currently allow citizens to produce firearms without serial numbers, but prohibit the sale or distribution of them. Many people claim ghost guns are dangerous because the police can’t trace the origin of the firearm if used in a crime. In these claims, there is an implicit expectation that secret groups manufacturing firearms for sale without a license would be kind enough to serialize their illegal products. Can we really hold such silly expectations?
The second type of ghost gun is incorrectly called that by reporters that don’t know what a ghost gun is. There are a lot of movies that tell us about this type of ghost gun. This false definition is a plastic handgun could be printed entirely on a 3D printer and pass through a metal detector without setting it off. The news points out the liberator as that weapon. Except, there hasn’t been many people that actually try to put the thing through a metal detector, so the jury is really still out on this one. Maybe some reporters should go investigate this before they throw out claims. The single shot .380 still included a nail firing pin an ammunition to be useful, all of which are metal and may help set off a metal detector. Let’s be honest though, with the TSA failing to find 95% of weapons when they are put to the test, It might not matter if the guns are made of steel or not.
Myth 3: Defense Distributed just gave a bunch of criminals technical data about firearms.
I even hear the following comments from well intending gun owners; “well, at least criminals didn’t have the technical data to produce firearms until Defense Distributed gave it all away.” This argument lacks knowledge of the subject. The data was available for download years ago, and has remained on the interned in several different CAD file repositories like Fosscad and Grabcad. If you wanted to dig deeper you could find the data at The Pirate Bay or Github. As long as we have a relatively free internet, the idea that ITAR can restrict the distribution of .3D files is ludicrous.
The other item failed to mention is that just having a blueprint or a .stl file does not ensure a successful or repeatable build. While they will likely have some instructions for things like the Liberator, the majority of their information is going to lack things like manufacturing tolerances necessary. 3D printers know that either repeated prints with tweaked model dimensions or extensive hand fitting are need to make functional parts. It’s rare that a print comes out perfectly the first time that model is tried. People will need advanced hand fitting or modeling skills to take advantage of what Defence Distributed provides.
I hope this helps the readers with tools they need to discuss this issue well and factually.