3D Printing Won’t Make It Easy To Make Affordable Firearms
November 13, 2013

3D Printing Won’t Make It Easy To Make Affordable Firearms

Run for the hills, soon anyone can print a firearm! All you need is a 3D printer. Numerous stories in the mainstream media in the past year have talk about how more and more individuals and even companies are taking the concept of 3D printing to a whole new level.

As was reported on Fox News this spring, Homeland Security even issued a bulletin that warned that 3D printed guns might be hard – even “impossible” to stop.

Fox News obtained a copy of the bulletin, which noted:

“Significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printer files for firearms components, and difficulty regulating file sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns.”

This sounds pretty ominous.

Oh wait, even the cheapest 3D printer is around $2,000 today and the type of printing those can do can’t come close to printing that firearm that DHS warned about.

Forbes actually offered a peak at a very specific firearm, ominously dubbed “The Liberator.” As Forbes noted, the maker of the gun – Defense Distributed – created the Liberator to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of firearm laws.

The company used a Stratasys Dimension 1200es-SST 3D Printer – a used printer at that. This is a considerable step up from the $2,000 or so Makerbot printers that are out there. A quick search found that a used pair sold last year on eBay for just $24,000 – or roughly $12,000 each.

Now Solid Concepts has managed to take it up a notch and the Texas company printed what is believed to be the first metal firearm created using a 3D printer. CNN reported that the specialty manufacturing company printed a version of the famous M1911, a handgun that was designed by John Browning and was used by the American military through both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam.

The types of printers used for 3D printing of metal are even more expensive than the Stratasys Dimension 1200 models. In other words, let’s not get too excited by this news that 3D printing is going to suddenly make the world a lot more dangerous.

It isn’t.

Sure there is a concern that gangs and terrorists might suddenly buy 3D printers and use these to churn out guns by the dozens. The truth is that there are plenty of illicit guns out there, and criminals and terrorists don’t need to suddenly get in the 3D printing business.

The other half of this is that firearms aren’t really all that difficult to make. The Philippines is awash in illegal firearms – and I’m not talking about firearms that are smuggled in. No, a black market of knockoffs has emerged where small time gunsmiths make near perfect copies of foreign brands. No 3D printer required.

In the Khyber region of Afghanistan there have been illegal gun markets for more than 100 years. Local craftsmen started out by using parts from former British muskets – including the Brown Bess – to make new firearms. Later these self-taught gunsmiths made copies – near perfect copies – of the Martini Henry, the main British rifle in the latter half of the 19th century. Today the gunsmiths can make near perfect copies of AK-47s.

Again, no 3D printer required.

Finally, making a gun at home isn’t really that hard. Numerous YouTube videos are (unfortunately) available to show how you can make a firearm from simple pipes and other parts you can buy at a hardware store.

These so-called “Zip Guns” are a lot cheaper – and arguably a lot more dangerous than anything we’ve seen come out of a printer – but that doesn’t seem to stop people from trying.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on Forbes.com, Inc.com, Cnet.com, and Fortune.com. Peter is a regular writer for redOrbit.com.

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