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phaedryx's avatar

A world without gun control: what will happen when anyone can print a gun?

Asked by phaedryx (6110points) July 30th, 2012

I’ve seen some buzz lately about this forum post. Basically, one of the members used a 3D printer to print some gun parts. He assembled the parts and tested it out. It worked! Granted, he didn’t print out a complete gun, he took parts he already had and combined them with the parts he printed.

What happens when you can download a file and print a complete gun?

(the files used are already available online)

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21 Answers

TexasDude's avatar

Guns require parts made of quality steel in order to work effectively. Parts like the barrel, bolt, receiver, and other parts that are subjected to high pressures cannot be “printed” at this time, and it will probably be a while before that kind of technology is perfected, as these kinds of parts are usually machined with extremely tight tolerances. In short, you cannot make a complete printed plastic or polymer gun and expect it to work well, if at all, but that probably won’t stop people from freaking the fuck out about this and going into ultimate hand-wringing mode, as I’ve seen in comments sections on articles about this topic recently.

Also, if a ton of people started printing things like AR-15 lower receivers (which is completely legal) and whatnot, the ATF would probably start restricting barrels, bolts, and other parts that can’t be effectively printed at this time. If it were feasible to print these parts, then any gun control effort would be null and void unless there was a push to ban 3D printers or some other reactionary shit.

Also, it is important to note that this isn’t exactly a new development. You can do the same thing with a CNC machine and have a gun made out of actual metal. Additionally, you can’t “print” ammo and that’s probably never going to be possible. Also, 3D printers are still extremely expensive.

So yeah. People shouldn’t panic about this.

Nullo's avatar

Honestly, I don’t think it’ll be any different, even when we start using steel parts. The law will remain the law, and criminals will still be breaking it. More law isn’t necessarily better law, and this product might, just might, make that clear.

As @Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard points out, a 3d printer is insanely expensive. Guns are more accessible: Hi-Point, the bargain-bin gun manufacturer, will sell you a .45 for about $200.

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard Making one’s own ammunition is old hat for gun culture. They certainly don’t require a printer for it.

phaedryx's avatar

Here’s a 3D printer for $500 (what people will pay for an iPad). The price for 3D printers seems to be coming down

Also, most hobby 3D printers are plastic now, but there is a lot of work being done for metal and ceramics. I would be surprised to see them in a few more years.

jrpowell's avatar

Guns are really easy and cheap to get. Shit, they sold me one at Bi-Mart. If someone is committed they can make a bomb or print a gun. With the cost of plastic that is fed into a 3d printer it would be cheaper and faster to just buy one.

I just think it should be harder to buy them since It might give people a cool down period before being armed. 3D printers are very slow. If someone is really committed to doing shit nothing will stop them. But the dude that just found his wife cheating shouldn’t be able to walk in a pawn shop and walk out with a gun.

TexasDude's avatar

@Nullo Making one’s own ammunition is old hat for gun culture. They certainly don’t require a printer for it.

Yeah. Hell, people in the Khyber Pass make it out of scrap metal and old nitrate film.

Blackberry's avatar

I couldn’t see the pictures, but are there really three dimensional printers?!

TexasDude's avatar

@Blackberry yeah bro. Pretty cool, huh? And possibly coming soon to a home office or garage near you.

funkdaddy's avatar

The technology is amazing and I think it’s going to change a lot of things. I don’t feel like this is one of them.

Printing something that looks like a gun and printing a working gun are very different. Even if you could print using hardened metal, it would still need to be machined and then we’re basically right back where we are now.

Think of it like trying to print out an engine. With all the parts, assembly, and clearances involved car manufacturers probably aren’t that worried that people will start printing them at home any time soon.

For the legal aspects, this strikes me a lot like trying to print money with your 2d printer. It might work occasionally and there are probably a couple fake bills in circulation, but it hasn’t exactly changed the game.

dabbler's avatar

“A world without gun control” I think that i effectively the situation now, certainly in the U.S. and much of North America.
I don’t think printability will change very much who has a gun.
And I don’t think 3-d printers will be able to make a whole weapon that’s good for more than one or a few shots for a long while. Current 3-d printers you might have outside a factory will make something that will explode in the user’s hand. It’s just another way for then to become a candidate for a Darwin award.

Mr_Paradox's avatar

The only problem with that story is that he would have needed to make parts to tolerences that a 3D printer can’t produce. So, as @dabbler said, “It’s just another way for them to become a candidate for a Darwin Award.”

woodcutter's avatar

The programs will no doubt fall under the control of BATFE and the offenders will get caught eventually.Just like counterfeit money. I think all commercially available manufactured firearms have to pass stringent safety criteria.

On the other hand if there is ever a draconian gun ban there will be great efforts to keep up with demand if the process is sound. It may be a good thing.

jerv's avatar

I am a CNC machinist. I have access to quality steel, as well as some alloys that are even better, and can work them to tolerances ten times better than any 3D printer. As @Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard points out, there really isn’t anything to worry about; if it were an issue then we would have had massive proliferation in homemade guns decades ago.

Note that the equipment required is expensive and requires some degree of skill to use. You may think it’s as easy as downloading a program and running it, but if you ever tried it, you’d realize it isn’t. And if you want to make your own program, hoo boy!

@phaedryx Even the industrial ones are not good enough to make parts that could contain any sort of explosion like a car engine or a bullet though. Therefore, barrels (and engine cylinders) will be an issue for quite a while to come.

@Blackberry Yes, and I work with parts that come from them fairly frequently. However, the type of printed parts I deal with (SLA, or Stereo Lithography) currently charge $500–1000 to make a part about the size of a handgun frame, so figure that doing it yourself would cost at least half as much on top of the initial investment in the equipment.

@johnpowell Slow is right; some of the SLAs I deal with take 3 days to print.

gambitking's avatar

Jeez this is all so blown out of proportion.

You can kill a person with a single cigarette and it’s untraceable.

You don’t blame forks and spoons for obesity do you? Come oooonnnn

Also , Mr Paradox, I like your Philosoraptor avatar

mattbrowne's avatar

With strict gun control it would still be illegal. You can already print dollar bills and most people don’t do it. Same with guns.

RocketGuy's avatar

There are laser sintering machines that can print out 3D metal parts, but there is porosity trapped in the metal. Those are defects that will propagate under pressure. The grain of the metal would be random too => low strength. A 3D sintered gun barrel would thus explode when the round is shot. Bad idea!

jerv's avatar

@RocketGuy That assumes that it doesn’t crumble like a sugar cube while you assemble the gun. Sure, castings (especially machined ones) are expensive and generally impossible to do at home, but some things are best done the old-fashioned way. Would you save a few bucks with DIY/home surgery, or would you shell out a few bucks to have it done by a trained doctor with precision medical instruments do it for you?

Nullo's avatar

Now, a robo-lathe…

TexasDude's avatar

Found a relevant article
The comments are full of a lot of people who don’t know what the hell they are talking about, as expected, but the article itself is good.

muhammajelly's avatar

Everyone says the tolerances are not sufficient to print a gun. I am surprised to hear this. Why couldn’t I print a low-tolerance mold and then scan the mold to produce successive corrective 2D acid-bath etch resist masks? Why are we talking about printing the part directly instead of printing a mold used to create the part through electrowinning, etc? Perhaps you could even print the machinery needed for the steps you cannot print directly. I don’t think the process needs to be direct from printer to weapon to be viable.

jerv's avatar

@muhammajelly Most printers I’ve seen run around +/- 0.010”, though some get within +/- 0.005”, which is about the tolerances I normally work to on most of the parts I produce at work. I don’t think tolerances are really the issue, especially when you consider that even machined parts often require a little handtool work (mostly deburring) anyways.

I still say the problem is the materials used, though one could compensate by designing a gun specifically for printing; something with thicker walls to account for the weaker material. As for using the printer to make the molds, how do you think they make the castings anyways? Take a 3D printed object (that is what an SLA is; the difference being that the machine that does them is more precise and far more expensive), coat it in ceramic, then burn out the plastic. Viola; mold!

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