Guns don’t kill people, printers do!

by on September 28, 2012 at 3:18 am in Law, Science | Permalink

Imagine an America in which anyone can download and print a gun in their own home. They wouldn’t need a license, a background check, or much technical knowledge, just a 3D printer. That’s the vision a cadre of industrious libertarians are determined to turn into reality.

Last week, Wiki Weapon, a project to create the first fully printable plastic gun received the $20,000 in funding it needed to get off the ground. The project’s goal is not to develop and sell a working gun, but rather to create an open-source schematic (or blueprint) that individuals could download and use to print their own weapons at home.

The technology that makes this possible is 3D printing, a process during which plastic resin is deposited layer by layer to create a three dimensional object. In the past few years 3D printers have become increasingly affordable, and just last week the first two retail stores selling 3D printers opened in the United States with models ranging from $600 to $2,199.

Here is more.

dearieme September 28, 2012 at 3:57 am

Since guns are already legal in the US, the effect there may be smaller than in those countries where it’s more awkward to get hold of a gun. I gather that I could hire a pistol for the weekend by going to the right pub, but I don’t think I’d like to deliver myself into the blackmailing power of an illegal gun renter.

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 7:57 am

Soon you guys will have to use an illicit 3D printer just to print a paring knife for your kumquats. At that point, you’ll only need a few more regs to be utterly safe.

IVV September 28, 2012 at 10:24 am

You pare your kumquats?

ibaien September 28, 2012 at 3:59 am

Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod

Douglas McArthur Shaftoe September 29, 2012 at 9:42 pm

I hear Kinakuta is lovely this time of year.

GiT September 28, 2012 at 4:02 am

Oooh, generic plastic guns. What could go wrong? But I suppose there’s no stopping it.

prior_approval September 28, 2012 at 4:17 am

Well that was interesting – it looks like certain links may not be allowed. Let me try again, and please forgive the duplicate.

Trust me, plastic 3D printed barrels and real ammunition is a self-limiting problem.

And in the interest of showing what opportunities already exist for 3D printing on the pirate model, a certain web site (name removed) has a section devoted to this sort of thing since the beginning of this year (link removed).

Intriguingly, if one thought that questions about copyright and patents were a problem in the software and GMO era, wait until you see the problems that are about to arise when you can create forms that other people insist they own – rounded rectangles come to mind, from a recent court case.

(Nice discussion from July here – http://www.metafilter.com/118314/3D-printed-gun – this comment gives an idea of the type of discussion –

‘Yeah, I really wouldn’t want to shoot a gun where the actual parts that matter (barrel etc) had been 3D printed. Can you say blown off hands? But seriously, there’s a lot of hard hard problems that are going to have to be solved before 3D printers make parts that matter, parts that have demanding materials reliability needs.
posted by Chekhovian’

In other words, actually manufacturing something that operates in demanding real world conditions is not the same as forming some plastic and pretending that it is precision tooled metal.)

E.L. September 28, 2012 at 5:50 am

You know that there are also 3D printers that can print metal objects. Granted, they are still very expensive but of course that is going to change eventually.

prior_approval September 28, 2012 at 6:43 am

You are quite right, I didn’t – talk about being behind the times, especially considering that a German company is apparently the largest player in the market.

‘Several companies have been making 3D printers for metals for some years now, from the pioneering 3D Systems in South Carolina, to leading US firm Stratasys in Minneapolis. They are reaching broad client bases — think aerospace to academe. And two European companies — EOS of Germany and Arcam of Sweden — are at the forefront of building machines that print metal end-use products, and not just prototypes, which used to be the majority of 3D-printed results.

Arcam started with the Electron Beam Melting, or EBM. During the EBM process, the electron beam melts metal powder in a layer-by-layer process to build the physical part. The Arcam EBM machines use a powder bed configuration and are capable of producing multiple parts in the same build. Arcam has two main metal-sintering machine systems (the A1 for smaller applications, and the A2 for larger ones, such as airplane parts) that make use of fusing metal powders together with an electron-beam melter.

EOS rolled out their flagship EOSINT M 280 system that came out a couple years ago to replace its 270 model, which was already a market leader in metal additive manufacturing. Both EOS and Stratasys, which uses primarily employ plastic-deposition technology, use their own machines to print parts that are, in turn, used to build more printers.

According to several reports, it is clear that European design and manufacturing firms are more advanced at both creating and utilizing additive technologies than their US counterparts (especially in the medical and dental arenas). And firms such as Boeing, Airbus, and even NASA are already using systems from the likes of EOS and Arcam.’

http://3dprinting.com/materials/metal/3d-printing-metal/

Though in relation to a previous discussion, it is interesting how the freeloading cuddly socialists are the market leaders ‘at the forefront of building machines that print metal end-use products,’ having overtaken the cutthroat capitalists who seemingly couldn’t figure out a way to use them in mass production. Or maybe, just weren’t innovative enough in a global marketplace? Especially when it comes to medical and dental uses, if the article is to be trusted – talk about a truly global market with immense potential, at least for those companies able to remain at the forefront of satisfying its demands. Especially at ‘creating’ technologies which are used for mass production to benefit everyone – sounds suspiciously socialist somehow.

Doc Merlin September 28, 2012 at 7:11 am

Large parts of europe (Sweden, Switzerland, Litchenstein, Denmark, etc) are less socialist than the US as a whole. Furthermore, the US is one of the most regulated countries in the world when it comes to medical devices.

prior_approval September 28, 2012 at 7:56 am

‘Large parts of europe (Sweden, Switzerland, Litchenstein, Denmark, etc) are less socialist than the US as a whole.’
Well, both Sweden and Denmark are both considered by Germans to be more socialist than Germany, and there is no way that I, an American living in Germany, am prepared to say Germany is less socialist than the good ole U.S. of A. (though if one wishes to get into a technical discussion the distinctions between socialism, social democracy, and soziale Marktwirtschaft, then Germany is not a socialist country – and neither are Denmark or Sweden. But that is a discussion without any reference to American frameworks).

‘Furthermore, the US is one of the most regulated countries in the world when it comes to medical devices.’
Well, in Germany, a doctor can be charged with assault for simply operating on a patient without a complete set of documentation which explicitly allows them to (yes – really, though there have been recent attempts to amend this framework – hairdressers that cut hair without explicit permission can also violate this framework, for example). I very seriously doubt (though again, it is just a feeling based on listening to 20 years of German reporting) that American laws are stricter. For example, if an engineer designs something that leads to death, or a mechanic does not perform proper work, and it leads to death, they are charged with homicide (or perhaps better translated as negligent homicide). Such charges are routine in any major accident involving death, for example. To my knowledge (and yes, this does include a bit of experience with German companies producing medical devices – and here is a link which provides a bit of overview of how they can get certified – http://www.tuev-sued.de/industry-and-consumer-products/-branches/medical-industry/market-approval-certification-for-medical-devices ), EU standards are not exactly less strict, they are just faster – according to a Bavarian web site, EU CE medical certification takes 11 months, while FDA certification takes 54 – a fact alluded to in the link, pointing out that TÜV SÜD ‘support[s] manufacturers in places worldwide through the FDA Accredited Persons 510(k) Third-Party Review Programme, created by the FDA to improve efficiency and timeliness of the FDA 510(k) process.’

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 8:21 am

On a nominal, absolute basis, we have one of the most socialized medical service delivery systems on the planet.

That the government doesn’t spend 100% of our medical service delivery systems money and only greater than 100% of other country’s spending ticks some people off.

Nevermind that how we spend our greater than theirs might have something to do with why ours grew faster, although currently slower than some of theirs are growing.

Benny Lava September 28, 2012 at 8:39 am

That is funny becuase conservatives are often pointing out how awful things are in socialist European countries like Sweden, with generous social welfare programs, redistributive government programs, highly progressive tax scheme, etc. I guess all that was a lie. Those things are socialist. Just high business regulations.

Cliff September 28, 2012 at 11:00 am

Negligent homicide is hardly unique to Europe. In the U.S. we have a little something called product liability as well, which is strict liability for any damages caused by a product. I fail to see the relevance of this discussion.

And point taken regarding two possibly successful European companies that you found on the Internet. Who cares that the average European person can’t afford a washing machine! Two companies in all of Europe are at least somewhat successful at 3D printing metal objects! Shout it from the rooftops!

Doc Merlin September 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Most of what you just described about Germany also applies to the US, and then some. For example: in the US you can be arrested for polluting a navigable waterway for dumping clean dirt on dry ground in your own back yard. (There are multiple people in jail for well over a decade currently for this.)

Sigivald September 28, 2012 at 3:37 pm

True, but I’m not sure if any of that sintered stuff can take the pressure involved (or how well one could “print” the rifling). On the other hand, if one is just making a .22 or a shotgun, the needs aren’t so significant.

(Which is the other reason “zomg people can make guns” isn’t all that interesting; any high-school kid could make a zipgun right now. It’s not difficult or expensive; a little bit of pipe for a low-pressure barrel, there you go.

And as long as you’re an adult, not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm, and it’s shaped-like-a-gun* it’s even legal to make one, either way, so long as you don’t sell it**.

* “Disguised weapons” are regulated by the National Firearms Act and must be registered with the Feds, and a tax stamp purchased.

** Production for sale requires a Federal Special Occupational Tax license; production for personal use outside of commerce does not.)

Steve Sailer September 28, 2012 at 4:07 am

That’s nothing. Woody Allen made a gun out of a bar of soap and black shoe polish in Take the Money and Run.

RR September 28, 2012 at 4:30 am

One of the most hilarious scenes ever!!!

prior_approval September 28, 2012 at 4:22 am

Always interesting to see what sort of filters are built into a system. A recent example from the United States Patent Office provides a fantastic glimpse of how that works, oh so painlessly –

‘U.S. patent office censors access to Internet freedom websites
Posted by Lindsey Pinto on Tue, 09/18/2012 – 17:00

Update: (via KEI, September 19) “At 5 pm the USPTO called and said that the public access wifi network was using a filter, provided by a contractor, to block “political activist” sites. This filter was not used by the network providing Internet access for the USPTO staff. After our meeting, the USPTO reviewed its policies, and has removed the filter. USPTO says the filter was implemented by a contractor, and no one we talked to at USPTO was aware of who was being blocked. In any event, the filter has been removed.”

During a visit to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), James Love of Knowledge Economy International (KEI) was surprised to find that he couldn’t use the Office’s wifi to get to the KEI website. Instead, he got this message:

Your request was denied because this URL contains content that is categorized as: “Political/Activist Groups” which is blocked by USPTO policy. If you believe the categorization is inaccurate, please contact the USPTO Service Desk and request a manual review of the URL.

The USPTO is a big player is intellectual property rights (IPR) policy (IPR is often invoked in defense of proposals that would restrict Internet freedom) in the U.S.—Love was there for a high level meeting on global negotiations on intellectual property and access to medicine, for example—and the USPTO also uses its meeting rooms for its Global Intellectual Property Academy. Perhaps most notably, the USPTO also advises the President of the United States, the Secretary of Commerce, and U.S. Government agencies on intellectual property policy, protection, and enforcement. This makes them a key player in many Internet freedom issues, among which is the TPP’s Internet trap. Which is why Love’s discovery is such a big problem:

We checked and found that the USPTO blocks access to a number of groups that have followed SOPA and the TPP intellectual property negotiations, particularly those critical of the USPTO positions on intellectual property issues. Among the NGOs that were blocked were aclu.org, cdt.org, citizen.org, eff.org, healthgap.org, keionline.org and publicknowledge.org. Among the sites NOT BLOCKED were the industry lobby groups BSA, MPPA, RIIA, and PhRMA.

This blocking of access to public interest organizations—some of which are part of the StopTheTrap.net Coalition—and welcoming of industry lobbyists is troubling for two reasons. For one, the blocking is symbolic of the closed, opaque way that intellectual property rules are crafted in agreements like the TPP. Secondly and more overtly, it means that those involved in high-level discussions at the USPTO are unable to access the information and opinions on Internet freedom sites. This makes it much more difficult for those sites to bring the public interest perspective to decision-makers; those inside the USPTO have a more difficult time finding critiques of their positions, and are more likely out-of-touch with citizen opinions.’

http://openmedianow.net/blog/us-patent-office-censors-access-internet-freedom-websites

Cliff September 28, 2012 at 11:23 am

This doesn’t even make any sense. Like many employees, they filter websites because they don’t want their employees wasting time when they are supposed to be working. There’s no conspiracy. You don’t think USPTO employees browse the Internet at home? Heck, most USPTO employees WORK from home.

Steve Sailer September 28, 2012 at 4:50 am

I’m not clear on the concept of a personal 3-D printer. Why would I want a machine to extrude my own plastic crud when I can go to Walmart and buy a boatload from China cheaper and better quality than what I could come up with?

ibaien September 28, 2012 at 5:30 am

because you could extrude contraband crud, duh.

Steve Sailer September 28, 2012 at 5:51 am

Like what? I can’t think of anything that’s both contraband and made out of plastic that I could imagine wanting.

Or maybe it’s more an intellectual property deal? Is there some rare first edition Star Wars action figurine that I could squirt out at home and sell on EBay before the nerds catch on?

Help me out here. I’m really not seeing an attractive Life of Crime career path here for me and my 3D printer.

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 5:55 am

There is none. It’s just one of those stories that gets traction because of people’s irrational mysticism surrounding guns.

8 September 28, 2012 at 5:56 am

Better to think in industrial terms for now. Why buy a boatload of stuff made in China and shipped to Wal-Mart, when Wal-Mart can buy an industrial scale printer and print the stuff at the store. Save of labor, save on shipping and no inventory too.

prior_approval September 28, 2012 at 6:58 am

And to think that it was less than 15 years ago, the idea of a CD kiosk which could burn any music that anyone wanted, even in Walmart, was considered to be one of those ideas that would make someone a lot of money.

Anybody know what happened to that idea? (A German language report about the initial plans – ‘IBM und die CD World Corporation starten in Kürze mit Music Network ein weltweites Online-Musikvertriebssystem für CDs, mit der die individuelle CD aus Tausenden von Soundtracks direkt im Musikladen zusammengestellt und in nur wenigen Minuten produziert werden kann. Zu diesem Zweck sollen innerhalb der nächsten drei Jahre 10.000 Music-Point-Kioske in den USA, Europa und Japan eröffnet werden.’ – https://www.pressetext.com/news/19980313002 – do note that the date is 1998, which is one year after this notable event – ‘In 1997 the cDc began distributing original MP3-format music on its website’ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_the_Dead_Cow )

And for those who do, anyone care to expain the extreme unlikelihood that manufacturers are going to be anymore generous than the recording industry? Which, by the by, has been watching itself be turn apart, not by sales from non-existent kiosks systems, but through a horde of people with music duplicating devices beyond any control of the music industry. Including an amazingly relisient web site which apparently is not possible to mention here – much the same way that ISPs are not allowed to link to it in several European countries.

And some people may well wonder why the Pirate Party is doing so well in politically opposing the ramifications of disappearing information that those who hold power do not want to be shared.

Cliff September 28, 2012 at 11:26 am

It’s a little easier to copy bytes than to copy physical objects, though.

Richard Gadsden September 28, 2012 at 3:44 pm

“It’s a little easier to copy bytes than to copy physical objects, though.”

The whole point about the 3D printer is that it converts bytes to physical objects, so anyone with a 3D printer can download bytes – through the usual dodgy channels that other types of bytes get downloaded through – and then print out the physical object they represent.

Tom West September 28, 2012 at 6:52 am

I don’t know about contraband, but to state the obvious, I think customization is the key for makers’ enthusiasm (I think ‘maker’ is the moniker the home-brew creator crowd give themselves). China is fine if you want 100,000 of something, but 3-D printing is the answer if you want 5 designed just your way. I think you’re right about the lack of ‘revolution’ – it’s a very nifty piece of technology, but I think the greatest danger it presents is to the old basement workshop, replacing the circular saw and lathe.

It would allow those like me with no dexterity a chance to ‘make’ things without losing fingers :-)

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 7:31 am

If everyone is prototyping at home and then publishing their successes so China can make 7 Billion of them that would be great. If everyone is just dinking around making Legos for their kids that’s less inspiring.

byomtov September 28, 2012 at 9:28 am

Also, simple things often cost ridiculous amounts.

The handle on my microwave just broke. It’s a plain piece of plastic with two holes in it for screws to attach it to the oven. SIxty bucks from the manufacturer, about forty-five from another site. I can imagine a local hardware store installing a 3-D printer and producing this sort of product at a much lower price.

A local bookstore has one of those machines that will print and bind books to order. Why isn’t this similar?

Rahul September 28, 2012 at 8:40 am

How about a plastic bong? Aren’t those contraband too?

Bong champion September 28, 2012 at 4:07 pm

No, those are legal if they’re sold for “tobacco use only”. ;-)

Finch September 28, 2012 at 9:28 am

> Help me out here.

There are expensive versions that can make high quality metal components. So there are current applications for the people who need, say, a gear made now and can’t go down the street for spare parts. Like workers in remote areas. Nuclear submarines come to mind. These things see use in prototyping shops, too. Small markets, but markets where you can charge more.

Long term, it’s not hard to see the technology advancing to use mixed materials and finer, more precise manufacturing. It might be worth having in your house at that point.

MC September 28, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I plan to homeschool my kids, and will probably buy one so they can try their hand at invention.

bluto September 28, 2012 at 9:29 am

The selling point amongst geeks has mostly been spare parts or niche products that aren’t available from Wal-Mart or Amazon.

PrometheeFeu September 28, 2012 at 5:48 pm

You might want something for which there isn’t a very large market and that therefore isn’t carried by Walmart for instance. It’s sort of the ultimate “lean manufacturing”. Lean manufacturing is all about making stuff “on demand” in order to minimize inventory. The problem with that is that you still need inventory because your factory is in China, I’m in the US and I’m not willing to wait until you’re done shipping from China. 3d printers mean you can rapidly transform fungible goop into whatever you want. That means you can do small batches, have no inventory (except inventory of fungible goop) and still get the stuff to your customer rapidly. Of course, the customer having the machine in their house means they are no longer your customer, but you get the point. (obviously there are technological limitations, but those are being pushed back all the time)

8 September 28, 2012 at 5:58 am

Seems a way around arms trafficking. “This industrial scale 3D metal printer is for peaceful purposes!”

Sigivald September 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm

“This machine shop is for peaceful purposes” is how that already works.

People actually making guns of sorts that “arms trafficking” would relate to are making them with machine tools, out of metal.

The lesson to be learned is that it’s always been impossible to stop people from making arms; plastic printing with some metal parts just makes part of it somewhat cheaper.

RPLong September 28, 2012 at 7:51 am

Regulations on who can own a 3D printer, here we come…

Rahul September 28, 2012 at 9:28 am

Not too far fetched.

I recently heard that in some US states, possession without license of certain glassware (e.g. Erlenmyer flasks) is now made illegal. Apparently since they can be used to make meth.

Is that really true? It’s sad if it is. I couldn’t believe something as innocuous as a glass flask could ever be banned. Where will this idiocy stop!

Komori September 29, 2012 at 10:11 am

Yeah, this kind of thing has been going on a long time in the US, and they have more excuses than just the War on Drugs for why they crack down on it:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/chemistry.html

This kind of thing is why chemistry sets have been complete garbage for years. When I was a kid, I had a nice one, but it it was an old one my parents picked up at a garage sale. Doubt you can even get those these days.

j r September 28, 2012 at 9:49 am

It’s more likely that there will be regulations on what can be sent to printers than on who can own them. Anyone can own a computer, but there are all sorts of things that can’t be sent and received over the internet (explicit images of children, pirated music, plans to blow something up, etc),

prior_approval September 28, 2012 at 9:58 am

‘on what can be sent to printers’
Try color printing, editing, or scanning a dollar bill –

‘The EURion constellation is a pattern of symbols incorporated into a number of banknote designs worldwide since about 1996. It is added to help imaging software detect the presence of a banknote in a digital image. Such software can then block the user from reproducing banknotes to prevent counterfeiting using colour photocopiers. However, recent research shows that the EURion constellation may just be one of many factors used to detect currency, and is not necessarily required.

—————————–

The name “EURion constellation” was coined by Markus Kuhn, who uncovered the pattern in early 2002 while experimenting with a Xerox colour photocopier that refused to reproduce banknotes.[2] The word is a portmanteau of EUR, the euro’s ISO 4217 designation, and Orion, a constellation of similar shape.

The EURion constellation first described by Kuhn consists of a pattern of five small yellow, green or orange circles, which is repeated across areas of the banknote at different orientations. The mere presence of five of these circles on a page is sufficient for some colour photocopiers to refuse processing. Andrew Steer later noted simple integer ratios between the squared distances of nearby circles, which gives further clues as to how the pattern is meant to be detected efficiently by image-processing software.

The EURion constellation is most prominent and was therefore first recognised on the 10 euro banknote.

Some banks integrate the constellation tightly with the remaining design of the note. On 50 DM German banknotes, the EURion circles formed the innermost circles in a background pattern of fine concentric circles. On the front of former Bank of England Elgar £20 notes, they appear as green heads of musical notes, however on the Smith £20 notes of 2007 the circles merely cluster around the ‘£20′ text. On some U.S. bills, they appear as the digit zero in small, yellow numbers matching the value of the note. On Japanese Yen, these circles sometimes appear as flowers.

Technical details regarding the EURion constellation are kept secret by its inventors and users. A patent application[3] suggests that the pattern and detection algorithm were designed at Omron Corporation, a Japanese electronics company. It is also not clear whether the feature has any official name. The term “Omron anti-photocopying feature” appeared in an August 2005 press release by the Reserve Bank of India.[4] In 2007 it was picked up in an award announcement by a banknote collectors society.’

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EURion_constellation

Typhoon Jim September 28, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Since the value of a 3d printed object lies in its structure, any device capable of building arbitrary geometry must be able to reproduce the geometry of a weapon, whether the material it makes it out of is capable of handling the stresses involved. There is no need to have an “official” thing to do the physical job of holding something together, keeping things apart, or whatever.

The closest thing to such a verification system might be microprinted tagging on each layer of the printed object to identify the machine from which it came.

I imagine you could create a sort of algorithm to detect certain volume ratios, relative sizes of objects, and so forth. It would generate many, many false positives.

Rahul September 29, 2012 at 1:26 am

Most color printers already do this by printing a yellowish, hard-to-see micro-dot-pattern in a corner of each printed page.

Michael September 28, 2012 at 8:02 am

I’m imagining something that looks like what John Malkovich in “In the Line of Fire”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXg56QW6qfo

RPLong September 28, 2012 at 8:55 am

That was totally the first thing that sprung to mind when I read this. I couldn’t remember the name of the movie, though. Thanks for that.

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 10:01 am

The purpose of that was to get past the metal detectors, not to blow your fingers off in your parents’ basement.

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 10:03 am

Oh, and I should add, as a professional assassin, the ultimate purpose was to assassinate the target in the safest place. It was an intentionally impractical tool for an intentionally impractical method for the sole purpose of terrorism.

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 10:07 am

(that is syntatically ambiguous, I am not a professional assassin)

eddie September 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm

You should take it up sometime.

mw September 28, 2012 at 8:03 am

NOOOOO! Libertarians are opening a pandora’s box. Liberals will start printing condoms, the pill, home abortion kits, gay marriage licenses, food stamps, and think how easy it will be to print fake IDs or even a fake face or maybe just fake robot people for VOTER FRAUD!!

Todd September 28, 2012 at 8:17 am

Think of all the plastic American flags that could be printed and then burned.

Mike September 28, 2012 at 8:28 am

I’m been both surprised and amused by the attention this story has been getting.

In the US, it is (generally speaking) perfectly legal to make you own gun. AK-style rifles are commonly made by simply bending sheet metal to form the receiver, and installing factory-made parts to complete the build. While well within the reach of an average handyman, this project is certainly more difficult than simply buying a gun, and the law does not allow anyone to build a gun that they would be legally prohibited from buying.

Now, we replace the sheet-metal bending with 3D-printing, and suddenly everyone gets excited, like it’s a new thing. Never mind that even the best 3D printers produce parts that are far less durable than even the most simple sheet-metal forms. Something about it captures the imagination and leads to exaggerations in every direction.

No, you cannot print an entire gun – barrels and other high-stress parts are not even on the horizon for these machines. No, your ‘plastic’ gun will not slip past metal detectors. No, illegally printing guns is unlikely to ever be as easy as other means of illegally acquiring them, including good old-fashioned manufacture in a basement machine shop equipped with 1950’s -era tools.

As a practical matter, there is just nothing to this.

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 8:57 am

I was thinking, since I don’t really watch TV, how if I didn’t seek out Scrubs episodes I’d never know about it. So, if you believe that access to guns is what causes violence and if that belief makes you believe that guns aren’t really around this story could be frightening and sensational.

Finch September 28, 2012 at 11:31 am

I agree that this is currently much ado about nothing. But, the technology is moving fast. You can already make decent turbines with it, for pete’s sake.

In 20 years, I’d bet this is the way the best gun barrels will be made. This technology is going to converge with MEMS fabrication technology coming up from smaller scales. You can expect to be able to manufacture anything in mixed materials and near-atomic accuracy where you need that using semiconductor etching and deposition techniques. Today it’s plastic bits. Perhaps I’m optimistic, but I suspect in ten years it will be real guns. In 20 years it will be cameras, complete with the CCD. And in 50 years we’ll have Star Trek replicators. It’s not obvious you’ll have one in every house – notably, I suspect a very versatile device will be big.

eddie September 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm

“No, you cannot print an entire gun – barrels and other high-stress parts are not even on the horizon for these machines.”

The subjects of the linked story are attempting to do exactly that. That’s what makes this particular story newsworthy.

Mike September 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Not really. They say they are hoping to make a single-use gun out of plastic. Even a single-use gun, in any practical sense, is currently far out of reach.

A 9mm pistol runs at about 35,000 psi. You are not going to make a single-use gun out of household-printed plastic, the best you are going to get is a single-use grenade. This is not going to change anytime soon, not for household machines anyway.

I suppose an absurdly large device, firing a very weak bullet, might be possible, but what’s the point? You can make a perfectly functional 12 gauge shotgun from two pipes, a piece of wood, and a nail.

To September 28, 2012 at 8:29 am

For a good novel revolving around the subject see Charles Stross, “Rule 34″.

Dan Weber September 28, 2012 at 11:03 am

There was very little porn at that URL.

mobile September 28, 2012 at 11:16 am

For something shorter and cheaper, see Printcrime by Stross’ brother from another mother, Cory Doctorow.

John Mansfield September 28, 2012 at 8:51 am

What a sad, manually deficient culture that needs a plastic 3-D printer to create a zip gun.

Bill September 28, 2012 at 9:33 am

Printing bullets too?

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 10:55 am

Sure. The trick will be printing gunpowder.

King Cynic September 28, 2012 at 9:36 am

This ought to be illegal. Fuck libertarianism.

Sigivald September 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Because…?

Mark Thorson September 28, 2012 at 9:50 am

The singularity arrives when a 3D printer can make a 3D printer.

Rahul September 28, 2012 at 9:57 am

I think, underneath that idea lies the seed for the ultimate Rube Goldberg contraption.

Explodicle September 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm

RepRap

Nick_L September 28, 2012 at 10:01 am

I asked a question of Tyler about this a while ago. What happens when the means of production passes directly into the hands of the people? This is not on the immediate horizon by any means, but surely – like the automobile – its coming.

Heedless September 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Building material will always be a limiting factor, as will energy. We may reach a level of technology where each person has more than they need for everyday wants, but from the perspective of 1900, we’re already there. I’d imagine we’ll come up with new wants and needs to go with our increasing wealth.

Affe September 28, 2012 at 10:36 am

No one’s talking about the implied new equilibrium here for law schools. It used to be that you had to kill yourself studying in order to get the grades, in order to get the summer associate position, in order to get the job, in order to get the money, in order to get the power, in order to get the women.

It’s now apparently a more efficient use of time to dick around making Toys R Us quality plastic guns.

Short law schools.

paul September 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

To me the real hazard is that this makes it a lot easier for kids to get guns. Sure, kids looking for trouble can get their hands on guns anyway, but the current system at least makes it difficult.

Guaranteed if it was possible to print a gun, my friends and I would have done it in middle school. And there were definitely kids in my school who would be dumb enough to get into trouble with a printed gun…

Andrew' September 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm

In that case, the question is whether this is the most disturbing thing one can print unsupervised. Also, on-net kids might use it for good.

It’s kind of like worrying that your kid is developing social and networking skills because that’s how they obtain contraband today.

paul September 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm

andrew’, i’m not worried about what my kid does with a gun, i’m worried about him getting shot by some idiot in his class.

and to be fair, my friends did build a potato cannon and a nail gun, and to my knowledge nobody suffered serious injury. but printing one off might not imbue with the same sense of responsibility as building it from scratch…

NAME REDACTED September 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Really? They had easy access to knives, yet they didn’t stab anyone. Maybe access to guns will teach them a big of responsibility wrt to weapons.

To September 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Killing somone with a knife is hard. Closest to your target. That’s what you learn last.

Philo September 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Following up on:
Bill: Printing bullets too? and Andrew': Sure. The trick will be printing gunpowder.

A machine that would transmute readily available material into high explosives would be epoch-making. But I take it that that is impossible (and that, at least according to Mike, the imaginary 3-D printer under discussion here couldn’t even make a usable plastic gun, let alone bullets).

Eric September 29, 2012 at 6:08 am

Well this is just odd. Ammuntion is not currently regulated that much. You don’t need a 3D printer to make crude ammuntion, and a 3D printer is unlikely to make ammunition that is not crude for many years to come. It’s not hard to make or buy explosives.

I just don’t see how this story affects any of the things you are trying to talk about.

eric September 28, 2012 at 11:53 pm

I’m not a gun expert, but I believe this takes advantage of quirks in US gun regulation.

A gun is a collection of parts, like springs, pins, a barrel, and a complicated part called a “lower receiver”. For regulation purposes, the lower receiver is considered the gun, and the rest is spare parts. The rest of the parts are pretty unregulated. The interesting bit is the lower receiver is not a high pressure part, and could conceivably be made of 3d printed plastic. The parts that would be need to be made of metal to make a practical gun are not as regulated as the lower receiver.

These issues are covered at the end of TFA, but I had heard them before.

Rahul September 29, 2012 at 5:22 am

Wouldn’t a compressed-air gun or pistol circumvent US Gun Regulations totally?

The US-ATF says:

The term “firearm” is defined in the Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. Section 921(a)(3), to include any weapon which will, or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; Based on Section 921(a)(3), air guns, because they use compressed air and not an explosive to expel a projectile, do not constitute firearms under Federal law

How come this option isn’t more widely used; is getting a good bullet velocity with compressed-gas technically unfeasible? Or would a gas canister be too unwieldy?

Ronald Brak September 29, 2012 at 9:27 am

Air rifles can definitely be powerful enough to kill and in the past have been used in limited numbers by militaries.

CPV September 29, 2012 at 9:20 am

What might prevent you from killing someone:

1. The penalties are too large if you get caught
2. You might get killed yourself in the process
3. You can’t find the physical means to do it

I would say of all the barriers the last one is by far the most difficult/impossible to implement.

Ronald Brak September 29, 2012 at 9:47 am

Guns are not the only danger of 3D printers. Currently people with the desire to put spring loaded blades in children’s toys and the skill and the patience to do so are extremely rare, but cheap and practical 3D printers means a person will only need the desire. In the future you may not let your 11 year old out of the house in case a 12 year old printed out a booby trap and left it in the park. I expect that gloop purchased for 3D printers will have identifier molecules or particles put in it that will act as a serial number and each purchase one makes will be recorded. If we are fortunate this identification system will only be used to protect lives and not to track down who illegally printed out a Han Solo action figure, so the average person won’t be motivated to work around the system just so they can print out little dolls without being sued.

The Anti-Gnostic September 29, 2012 at 11:04 am

You can already do this sort of thing with razor blade slivers, chemicals, sharpened sticks, etc. Other than a very, very small percentage of sociopaths, anti-social people don’t spend all their time in secret labs tinkering with spring-loaded blades in children’s toys. They just punch people in the mouth or shoot them with guns, or make fertilizer bombs or fly planes into buildings. IOW, technology is already highly democratized. Numbers and CSI are just TV shows.

Frankly, given all the means at everybody’s disposal, it seems their should be more “terrorism.” Lord knows we’re supplying people with plenty of motive.

Also, you can have the most advanced replicator in the world. You still need the equivalent mass in raw materials and joules of energy to run it. Gene Rodenberry never seemed to explain that part.

Mark Thorson September 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm

With 3D printers and the Internet, how many sociopaths would it take to satisfy worldwide demand for designs of lethal children’s toys? If he’s talented and hardworking, one. If you’ve got 2 or 3, then the kids get to take their pick from a variety of competing designs.

Ronald Brak September 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Anti-Gnostic, while people are quite capable of killing each other with materials readily at hand, I think you down play the effect that laziness has on keeping us safe. Obviously, if live hand grenades could be bought by anyone for a dollar at any supermarket, including by 12 year olds, the world would be a more dangerous place. This is despite the fact there is nothing really stopping people from learning how to make their own explosives at home, except effort.

doctorpat October 2, 2012 at 1:07 am

I’ve got some good news for you. You CAN buy explosives at the supermarket for a dollar. And every 12 year old knew how to do it when I was at school.
The result was a few less pigeons and a lot of stupid running around.

Max September 29, 2012 at 11:20 am

Tyler, this is really just the beginning. For example, at the company where I work, we use a new version of 3D-Laserprinting. Instead of making models out of plastics, we are using metal powder. This means that we get metal powdered objects with tensile strength of up to 200 – 300 MPa. What this means? While plastics might have a problem with functioning guns (heat and wear), powder metals are much better suited for these applictions.
Of course, powder metal laser printers are still very expensive (as is the material, though you can basically use waste materials from metalwork companies), but they work like a charm even with very small objects and high tolerances (barrel of a gun).

While plastic printers might be allowed, I doubt that EU officials would allow powder metal printers.

Bravin Neff September 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm

The tolerance used in the manufacture of a typical gun barrel is plus 5 tenths minus 0 (or plus 12 microns minus 0). The typical stereo lithography machine and 3D printer can hold at best plus or minus 4 thousandths of an inch (or plus or minus 100 microns).

You do the math. Better yet, you do the test firing.

doctorpat October 2, 2012 at 1:09 am

So these home-made guns will be restricted to the quality of a 19th century sixgun? Or a Napoleonic era musket?
Damn, you can’t kill anyone with one of those…

Mark Thorson September 29, 2012 at 10:37 pm

I have an idea for how to make plastic handguns. Imagine a bundle of seven gun barrels, one in the center and six in a circle around the central barrel. All barrels have explosive, but only the center one has a bullet. Now, set off all the explosive at once. The pressure build-up in the peripheral barrels will keep the central barrel together long enough for the bullet to exit the muzzle. That’s why the barrel with the bullet doesn’t have to be made out of metal.

Of course, this has the disadvantages of the gun exploding and only being a single-shot device. You could have a little shield to protect the hand of the guy wielding the weapon. The guns are cheap and light, so he could carry two or three of them.

The advantages are that this is a cheap gun, so you can give it away to your army of minimally trained locals. Also, people will only shoot when absolutely necessary, because of the risky way the gun explodes when firing. For most purposes of a gun, the mere threat of shooting is sufficient functionality. For those times when you do need to shoot, one shot is usually all that you need. If you think you need more shots, often the real problem is you don’t have enough guys on your side. The gun is very loud, so it serves the dual purpose of alerting your guys to come to your assistance.

fioreset next day October 23, 2012 at 9:24 am

Ronald, I am totally agree with your thoughts. Keep doing these type of work.

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