Up In Arms About Printing Arms

Desktop fabrication is getting a lot of attention these days and not all of the attention is positive.  There are concerns about how the technology makes it easier for someone to make a gun, or to be more exact, print one.   The instructions, even the blueprints and lists of raw materials needed for gun making, have been available to the public for decades.  So why is everyone suddenly up in arms about printing arms?  It appears the recent concern for printing guns arose when a gun hobbyist, who also excelled in 3D printing, married the two hobbies.  This combination of hobbies has produced some plastic gun parts and triggered a debate on 3D printer technology and the ability for individuals to print guns at home.

Defense Distributed recently launched their Wiki Weapon Project (WWP), which has gained attention from pro and antigun groups.  WWP is trying to create a 100% printable design, downloadable to anyone who has access to a 3D printer.  Defense Distributed is very clear about their goals with the WWP and this has brought them negative attention which halted some of their funding when Indiegogo removed the project from their site last week as stated by Forbes.  The sites presence raises concerns, at least to some, about the ease and ability with which an individual can manufacture and mass-produce guns from home. Even though WWP clearly states the obvious legalities of printing guns for personal use, the perception is if the project goes well mini mass-producing printers will pop up on a corner in a neighborhood near you.

Printing a firearm still has to adhere to ATF regulations and the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968.  If you are not a prohibited person and you craft a firearm by hand, using a CNC machine or one of the many 3D desktop printers available, the law still restricts what you can and cannot do with that gun and or gun parts, one of which is that you can not sell the gun you make. See Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ previous holding on manufacture of a firearm for private use. The other question that printing with plastic raises is what role if any does the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which is codified at 18 U.S.C. § 922(p),  plays once someone creates the first 100% plastic gun?

That person may very well be Michael Guslick .  Guslick became a target of this controversy when he blogged about his AR-15 lower receiver that he printed on a RepRap printer, which is one of many 3D printers available to hobbyist today.  Guslick who seems passionate about guns and 3D printing, does a great job in his three part blog post, “Gunsmithing with a 3D Printer”.  The series confirms his enthusiasm for desktop fabrication as a hobbyist and tinkerer, while substantiating the limitations of plastic filament in gun printing.

The debate on 3D gun printing is one of many conversations that will be had as this technology continues to move forward and we see even more unique items come to print.  Defense Distributed might get the funding they need for world domination and hopefully Guslick will continue to share his adventures in perfecting an AR-15 print. Maybe the debate will inspire “desktop gunsmithing” in more individuals.  More than likely, at least for a few more decades, it is safe to say it will continue being easier to purchase a firearm than to craft one at home on a printer.

Written by Amy Buser. Reviewed and approved by Joshua Prince, Esq.

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