How to Print Your Own Gun

Posted by - Friday, September 14th, 2012

With the increase of school shootings and the latest movie theater shooting occuring in Colorado earlier this summer, gun control is a pretty hot-topic right now. But perhaps another phenomenon should be at the forefront of the issue: 3D printing technology.

If you've heard all the buzz about the latest 3D printing technology, you've probably seen the pictures of simple toys, shoes, jewelry and instrument parts created from one of these new printers. But some savvy tech experts believe a dark side of 3D printing is unfolding just as quickly...

Last month, Engineer Michael Guslick said he had successfully printed and fired the world's first homemade 3D-impressed gun. He made this claim on the AR15.com online forum. The gun was the lower receiver of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and Guslick indicated that he had fired the gun over 200 times.

Guslick continued to say that assembling the rifle “wasn't that difficult,” and he was able to do so after purchasing a 3D printer for $1,000. After all was said and done, the project took him approximately 30 hours max.

Although the product wasn't an ideal rifle, Guslick commented that it was “extremely large and ungainly,” it got the job done.

Although Guslick was successful, he's not too worried about criminals following in his footsteps: “Criminals are not going to give this a second thought,” he said. “They will continue to look to the black market, rather than saying ‘Oh gee, we need to buy a 3D printer.’”

In the meantime, 3D gun-printing is entering the corporate world. A website that specializes in “digital designs for real, physical objects,” known as Thingiverse, is already in the midst of plans for working gun parts.

From CNET:

Thingiverse is a creation of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based MakerBot and its CEO, Bre Pettis. Pettis and his company have become the de facto faces of 3D printing thanks to regular appearances in mainstream and tech media talking about how 3D printers democratize manufacturing. Pettis usually demonstrates this idea with brightly colored remote-control cars, robots, and other toys made with MakerBot printers. MakerBot and Pettis don't really talk about files related to gun parts.

That doesn't mean the issue has gone unnoticed, with the intersection of 3D printing and firearms having made the news a few times this year. In June, Michael "HaveBlue" Guslick reported on his blogabout successfully test-firing a homemade gun whose key component, the lower receiver, he made from ABS plastic on a '90s-era Stratasys FDM 1600 3D printer.

Another organization called Defense Distributed has ambitious goals of designing files for a “Wiki Weapon,” which will be another 3D-printed firearm. CNET's Rich Brown investigated to learn more about various 3D printing companies and their policies towards printing firearm related weapons and components...

One innovative company full of creative minds, i.materialise (Leuven, Belgium), said they would reject the idea of producing firearms because the notion is at conflict with the company's mission of making the world a better and healthier place to live.

On the other hand, a representative from Ponoko (various locations across the globe) indicated that they would not deny anyone from using their services to create firearm components. They believe, in good faith, that their customers will only be using their products in a lawful manner and that it is very plausible that they would not even recognize a gun part if they saw it – they come in so many shapes and sizes, and they're no gunsmiths. 

Sculpteo (Paris) said they agree to print objects as long as they is no way it could be confused with an actual firearm.

Shapeways (New York and Eindhoven, the Netherlands) also prohibits the printing or post weaponry of any kind on their site without a firearms license, which they do not intend to posses any time in the near future.

While things are ever-changing, especially in the 3D printing market, it sounds like Ponoko may have a boomng business by printing gun parts if the Defense Distributed project goes according to plan.

However, it's likely that politics and government will attempt to intervene more aggressively as these corporate plans evolve.

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