3D Printers are Changing the Potential for Homemade Pistols.
After writing the piece on the TSA last week and [unfortunately] engaging in a Facebook ‘debate’ about the absurdity/impracticality of a government sponsored gun buy-back program in the U.S., I was clear on the topic of my next article: 3D printed guns.
So imagine my [lack of] surprise when news broke that a man attempted to board a plane with a 3D printed gun in his carry on luggage at the Reno-Tahoe International airport (though perhaps I was surprised the TSA caught it).
The gun was likely intercepted because it was in tact and visible on the x-ray machine just as clearly as any metal gun, or a water gun for that matter. The man relinquished possession of the gun, was allowed to board his flight and will face a fine up to $7,500.
Opponents of the homemade weapon express concern that 3D printed guns can easily be disassembled—with the parts separated, they can look like any other innocuous item—and then be quickly reassembled on the other side of security.
Affectionados of 3D printed guns caution the public against unnecessary fears. These guns still require ammunition (which is metal) and illegal to bring through airport security, and require a metal firing pin.
Until recently, law enforcement and the ATF have remained unconvinced that 3D printers could produce a consistently reliable firearm. The firing of a an exploding metal bullet within a plastic gun has made these printed guns largely unstable and they have not held up from the stress of multiple shots. Until now…
Pennsylvania machinist Michael Crumling has developed a new cartridge, the Atlas .314 designed specifically for firing from a 3D printed plastic gun. Additionally Crumling constructed a thicker steel shell that can house a lead bullet. When fired, this shell acts as a buffer between the actual gunpowder of the round, and the weak plastic of the 3D printed gun. Says Crumling, “You should be able to fire an unlimited number of shots through the gun without replacing any parts other than the shell.” Though for now, his .314 bullets are assembled by hand and take approximately 30 minutes each.
As the technology behind the homemade firearm continues to improve, so will the weapons themselves, sparking new controversy in countries where gun ownership is tightly controlled or banned entirely.
I personally see no cause for alarm–yet. Could a person who is not authorized to purchase a firearm circumvent the law and obtain one via 3D printing? Sure. But 3D printers require some level of technical expertise and are quite a bit more expensive than a gun illegally purchased off the street.
This innovation does serve to change the landscape of gun restriction. Those who want to restrict gun ownership have an obstacle on their hands. Regulating and tracking the design files for these firearms will prove difficult.
In 2013, Cody Wilson, a 25 year old law student at the University of Texas, was the first to design, print and test fire a gun made from a 3D printer he bought on Ebay. Wilson subsequently made the blueprints for his design of the “Liberator” available online. In two days it was downloaded over 100,000 times before the government took down the site.
In July 2015 the U.S. State Department announced new proposed rules to the International Traffic on Arms (ITAR) regulations to make it illegal to post blueprints for 3D printed guns online, by redefining ‘export’ language. Wilson has filed a lawsuit against the federal government claiming the take-down order violated his First, Second and Fifth Amendment rights under the US. Constitution.