News technology

How to print your own firearm

The online release of software which would allow anyone to 3D-print their own gun is now on hold, after a US federal court ruling on Tuesday.


A prototype 3D-printed plastic gun. BBC

Gun access advocacy group Defense Distributed wants to make their plans available online so that anyone can make their own weapon – without any experience or background checks.

What is a 3D-printed gun?

Advances in 3D-printing technology have made it feasible to create gun parts using a simple set-up: a mill or plastic printer hooked up to a computer.

Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson invented the first 3D-printed gun five years ago.

The Liberator, a single-shot gun, was mostly plastic and less accurate than a conventional pistol. But it was printable – and untraceable.

The plastic gun raised concern over how easy it was to sneak past metal detectors.

In 2013, Israeli journalists were able to smuggle a 3D-printed gun based on Defense Distributed blueprints into the country’s parliament.

Mr Wilson’s company now has a new printer model which allows gunsmiths to create aluminium objects from digital files, with no experience needed.

Aluminium, like plastic, is not a material normally used in guns due to its malleability, which could cause 3D-printed parts to warp when fired.


Gun control advocates were the first to nickname these untraceable firearms “ghost guns”, but the term has since been adopted into the pro-gun vocabulary, too.

These guns have no serial number and are illegal to buy or sell, but making one is still legal.

Defense Distributed does not sell any fully assembled weapons – just the data files and printers needed to make them.

The Ghost Gunner 2, Defense Distributed’s updated mill, reportedly costs under $1,500, and is already sold out for 2018. A $250 deposit reserves a place on the list for the next batch of machines.

The machine is also “fully programmable”, according to Defense Distributed’s website, meaning users can code and complete their own projects even if the company does not sell a design file for it.

Is this legal?

In the US, most gun parts have little regulation and are not individually considered as “firearms”. These parts can be shipped or sold without a federal firearms licence (FFL).

The lower receiver, the part that essentially holds the gun together, is considered a firearm under US law, but only if it is complete.

An 80% complete lower requires minimal effort to mill into a finished lower, but it is not considered a firearm. This finished lower can be tailored to build different guns, including AR-15s, full-sized rifles or pistols.

It is these lower receivers that Defense Distributed’s Ghost Gunner is primarily designed to create.

When buying a gun from a dealer with an FFL, buyers receive an instant background check using a national database.

But with this new technology, gun owners can print and assemble their own firearms, without a serial number or background check.

Defense Distributed notes on their website that some states may have manufacturing restrictions, but as long as users do not sell their homemade firearms, it is legal to print them.


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