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3D Printed Guns: How Does It Work & What Are the Long-Term Implications Of This Tech?

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There was a big rush to discredit the science behind the home modeled, composite gun John Malkovich used to try and assassinate the president in the 1993 political thriller movie “In the Line of Fire.” The general agreement was that the gun would’ve exploded from the heat burst needed to eject the bullet out of the barrel. How things have changed.

If you would like to know a bit more about 3D printed guns: how they work and what are the legal ramifications of printing one out, you will find some really helpful information on the subject here. Whether your hunting with the best rifle scopes available on the market or you’re a master of target shooting – you’re about to learn something new!

Have a close look at the latest 3D printed guns: they have an eerie similarity to the composite gun prop used in the movie (the prop was later used again by Russel Crowe in “No Way Back.”) Image below used here courtesy of All3DP.

A Brief Look at How 3D Gun Technology Was Developed

3D technology capabilities have been used to create synthetic food, musical instruments, and even build homes. But it was back in 2013, that Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed (an open-source gunsmith organization based in Texas), released the files for a 3D one-shot pistol online. The plans 3D printed the handy little pistol seen above, called The Liberator. Over the next two days, the files were downloaded over an incredible 100,000 times, until the U.S. Department of State, ordered Wilson to take the model information down.

The actual composite gun used in “In the Line of Fire”

The argument as to the legality of the government’s intervention is still being debated to this day. This new technology is not only reserved for weapons, but it’s promising to impact the efficiency of businesses.

The saga continues as Defense Distributed keeps on releasing 3D printable parts for semi-automatic weapons – and the police have confiscated every one of them.

Most of the 3D guns that have been printed around the world have been pistols, and have landed up in the hands of a mixed bag of users. One of the better-known cases of people who printed out The Liberator was the Australian police (on a 3D printer that cost AUS$1,700). The gun fragmented the first time it was used to fire a bullet, but that didn’t stop the Australian government from coming down hard on the activity.

Needless to say, 3D guns have been printed faster then governments can scramble to legislate them one way or another. This is in spite of there being no research into the functionality of a 3D printed gun when used in nefarious manner. This lack of data and statistics hasn’t stopped governments in the States, the U.K., and Australia from preemptively passing strict rules and laws against them.

Is it Possible for Every Part of the Gun to Be 3D Printed?

Technically, you can print all the pieces needed to assemble a weapon into which you can load a cartridge, and from which you can fire one bullet once.

Realistically, it’s not worth the effort.

This is because the average person’s 3D printed materials are flimsy; one shot at most is all you would get before total failure due to its compromised structure, poor specs, and weak material integrity. A 3D gun can only withstand the pressure and heat from firing a bullet once, and that’s with a caliber of no more than .22. If you tried to move up the caliber, it’s less likely the gun would work at all. The complex materials and 3D printing machines needed for the job are simply not accessible to the mainstream public yet.

3D Printed cosplay gun Simone Fontana

The technology for printing in 3D metal is out there, but the machines are so expensive that it will likely be decades before they become available at consumer-level prices. If you did manage to lay your hands on one, however, you would be able to print out a high caliber weapon for yourself, one that had multi-firing capabilities and you’ll be able to use it multiple times too. Currently, the machines that can do this cost as much as loft apartment in Des Moines, so it makes better financial sense to buy guns instead of printing them, for now.

Can 3D Printers Make Fake Prop Guns?

This is the question that will score you one to three years in jail in the U.K. or Australia, and the answer is “Yes” – you can use 3D printers to create prop guns. There are many weapon prop model files available online. There is a market for replica guns out there: recreations from favorite movies, additional prop pieces for role play or Halloween – you name it, and there will be a fan base wanting to lay their hands on a 3D replica of it – the bragging rights alone means the printing price makes it worthwhile.

Unfortunately, in countries that have been quick to jump on the 3D gun printing hysteria bandwagon, pushing the “Print” button for a prop gun replica within their borders carries a prison sentence.

3D Printed cosplay gun: Simone Fontana

If the weapons don’t look realistic, such as the one in image above, the manufacturer is free from prosecution so long as they aren’t infringing any copyright laws. If the guns look as close to the real thing as they can get, then certain governments will have a serious problem with the producer. Case in point, the 3D guns in the image below got the person who made them a one year suspended jail sentence in Australia, and that was after much trial negotiation by the defendant’s lawyer.

Now, the person who made these guns insisted they were for cosplay as well. But you be the judge of which one of these images contains a legitimate cosplay weapon, and which guns have been manufactured to be passed off as real guns in real-life situations.

What’s All the Fuss About 3D Guns and Metal Detectors?

Theoretically, a 3D printed weapon could bypass a metal detector. More to the point, even though most models are not accurate and notoriously prone to shattering, research has demonstrated that a bullet fired from a 3D gun could easily penetrate a human skull. Current plans ask 3D printers to insert a piece of metal into the gun while it is being printed, in order to make it detectable.

3D Guns: The Security Risks

Printed guns don’t have serial numbers, don’t require identification, and no background check is needed before buying a metal 3D printer, the materials for it, and downloading the files. Such weapons are known as ghost guns. There are concerns these kinds of firearms could fall into the hands of the intellectually disabled, criminals, or even curious minors.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is working towards closing these loopholes while still upholding an individual’s right to make guns at home for personal use, on the condition they meet certain specifications for detectability and parts, and are never proffered for sale.

3D Guns The Security Risks

 

3D Guns: Pros and Cons

Cons:

It’s the supposed ease at which a 3D gun is created that’s causing the mainstream media to go full-panic mode, not the actual weapon functionality. Because the manufacture of one of these weapons exists outside of the registration and background check procedure, it has brought into question whether criminals can produce lethal firearms and ghost guns in their homes.

The majority of weapons used in crimes are not actually fired. It is the brandishing of the gun itself that enables a significant percentage of criminal perpetrators to commit a crime and get away with it too. This is one of the major drawbacks of the accessibility of 3D printing technology.

Pros:

The fear of 3D guns has increased much faster than the technology itself. No criminal is ever going to buy a 3D printer to create a sub-standard weapon, when it’s so much easier to get hold of a real one through other means.

  • They can’t be used more than once
  • 3D guns are notoriously unreliable
  • They are clumsy and unwieldy
  • These weapons have no range or accuracy

As long as the shooter is as much at risk from the shattered shards when firing a 3D gun as the person at which it is being aimed, you are unlikely to see these weapons on the street. If someone is in a rage and has the perseverance to buy a printer and materials, wait half a day for the gun to print out, and then take the time to fire it, the “acting on the spur of the moment” defense goes right out the window.

What is the Future for 3D Guns?

Future of 3D Guns

It’s the belief of many gun pundits that firearms are seen by most weapons collectors and enthusiasts as elegant tools and useful adjutants to outdoor sports and home defense. In the eyes of a weapon enthusiast, relying on or using a 3D gun would be the same as throwing a stone.

The 3D gun debate should wait until the technology has advanced.

 

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