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New York Times Covers 3D Printing for Guns

I was surprised to see something like this in the paper of making up the record, but I have to admit, the publicity Cody Wilson has generated with the WikiWeapon has been stellar. The Times overstates what the technology is currently capable of, but it’s getting better and cheaper. I think it will be some time before you can print a barrel. But the Times basically admits this technology will be impossible to control, though stop short of suggesting gun control is obsolete. As I mentioned, Wilson does run into the issue of the Undetectable Firearms Act, when it comes to making a firearm solely from plastic, or even mostly from plastic. But criminals will not be so encumbered, and the technology will continue to progress regardless of what the American government has outlawed.

12 Responses to “New York Times Covers 3D Printing for Guns”

  1. asdf says:

    They’ll eventually just make serial numbers a requirement for both receivers AND barrels. We’ll have to go through an FFL every time we order a .22 conversion kit for our 1911’s or AR’s or order a spare upper for our AR’s.

    • Sebastian says:

      I think the attack would likely come in the form of making it illegal to manufacture any firearm without a license to do so, regardless of whether or not it’s for personal use. That will stop honest people from doing it.

      But I think right now the other side is mostly just watching this with some alarm. As long as criminals have a large supply of guns which are already on the black market, it’s not going to be cost effective to make them, so it won’t be a major source of crime guns.

      But if criminals do start taking to this technology, we’ll need to be vigilant. They will try to make it more illegal, even though it’s already illegal to make firearms for profit without an FFL.

  2. Stacy says:

    I have a hard time seeing how either CNC or 3D printing could result in a worthwhile barrel. All the other parts, sure, but if you’re going to carve out a tube from a metal blank without any kind of hardening or internal stress relief, you’re talking strictly about a Derringer or Saturday night special type of gun.

    • Alpheus says:

      I currently can’t imagine 3D printing this, but for CNC purposes, there are at least two routes: first, using hardened tools that can cut through already-hardened metal; second, using a soft metal that can be hardened afterwards, usually by heat-treatment.

      The options are there, if you know what you’re doing!

  3. Roberta X says:

    In one of Charles Stross’s novels (either Halting State or Rule 34, as a minor plot point, a future 3-D printer gets loaded with and runs software to produce a “gun” using a very powerful spring rather than powder. Pressure’s pressure but I wonder if that or compressed air might not be easier to design for in plastic than burning powder?

    Stross, a Briton, totally gets it about the essentially unregulatable aspects of the tech, though his character is a Scottish cop, and so she has to at least try.

    • Sebastian says:

      You could use air, yes, but at a cost of muzzle velocity and energy. The difficulty of a spring is that you’d have to have a mechanism to push the spring back to the compressed state, and any spring you can easily do that with won’t store very much potential energy.

      • Roberta X says:

        Oh, a nice little gear mechanism would do just fine for compressing a heavy spring — make it a worm gear and it can’t kick back, either.

        Sure would hate to have one near me if the frame gave way.

  4. ursavus.elemensis says:

    I don’t get this 3D printing thing. Does the printer “print” or does it make die-cut plastic sheets? Or do you have to cut out the pieces and then roll them up or fold them up? Or is it like a lathe? What the heck is it?

    • Sebastian says:

      Depends on the technology, but it either extrudes a polymer in thin layers, and slowly builds up the part according to a 3D model and toolpath… or, to do metal, it uses a laser to pass over a bed of sintered metal, and melts, layer by layer, the sinters into a solid metal part. 3D printers aren’t capable of producing quality metal at this current time. It would be a pot metal.

      You can see a design I contributed some too here for a magazine. We got it sort of working, but not terribly reliably. Then we ran out of time.

      See also here, and here. This printer extrudes ABS plastic, and is a hobbyist type setup.

      This is a more sophisticated setup that is very cool, but beyond the reach of hobbyists.

      • Alpheus says:

        It’s also possible to print plastic using a powder, laid a layer at the time, similar to the sintered metal approach Sebastian described; although these printers are usually pretty big. (It’s also possible to print colored plastic parts using this technique, altohugh I’m not sure how the various colors are added.) All the hobbyist printers I’ve seen so far have been of the type that Sebastian described.

  5. asdf says:

    Keep in mind that the “threat” of homemade firearms being printed out on makerbots need not be real in order for this to result in legislation. Switchblade laws were the result of James Dean movies, and don’t forget Mel Gibson’s “Glock 7” which can go through metal detectors at airports. And how can we forget the hysteria surrounding black talons, and the “armor piercing ammunition” laws we have to thank for ammo that is actually LESS able to penetrate armor than ball ammo. The list goes on…..

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