No, you can’t download a gun from the Internet

No, you can’t download a gun from the Internet

Summary: 3D printers and home users can build quite a few things, but despite the internet media hype, you can’t print a working firearm.

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TOPICS: Printers, Hardware
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In the truest spirit of chicken little, Internet sites, from random political blogs, to supposedly valuable sources such as Popular Science, to Internet pundits who should know better how to research their stories, have been piling on to a clever bit of disinformation, in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado tragedy. They have been either claiming or implying that it is now possible for someone with nothing more than a 3D printer to be churning out assault rifles in their spare time.  One site went so far as to actually say that just add materials at one end of your late model 3D printer and you could have an “assault rifle” pop out the other.

Many have illustrated their writing with pictures of complete firearms, leaving the reader to draw the conclusion that this is what has been printed.  Unfortunately, it’s almost all nonsense, written in ways to attempt to draw the reader away from the actual facts and generate as much hysteria as possible. The facts, however, aren’t quite so hyperbolic.

A firearms enthusiast, who uses the screen name “HaveBlue” (an homage to the stealth aircraft prototype), in June blogged about his efforts to use his 3D printer to print an AR15 lower receiver. An AR-15 lower receiver is only a firearm courtesy of the fact that when commercially produced, the serial number is on that part. The AR upper receiver is where the barrel is attached and all of the mechanical action beyond pulling the trigger takes place.  Printing an AR upper and then assembling a firearm on it would be much more problematic due to the heat and nature of the way an AR functions.

An AR lower, which is what HaveBlue printed, is basically a non-stressed part, and commercial products made of plastics, polymers, and carbon fiber have long been available. Traditionally, the part is made from aluminum alloy.

After some trial and error, HaveBlue was able to print an AR lower, and then with much additional handwork, he was able to assemble with a large collection of regular firearms components into a functional .22 caliber pistol. An AR lower is the housing for the fire control and magazine retention parts and the mounting point for the rifle stock.  A complete, functional, lower receiver contains over 40 individual parts; 3D printing provided only one of those 40-some parts. And that is still only half of the firearm.

The printed part is just one of more than 70 parts needed to build a gun

If you look at the attached graphic, the part outlined in red was what was printed. The rest of the parts would still need to be purchased or acquired. 

HaveBlue has since assembled his printed lower with the collection of parts necessary to have a functional centerfire rifle, but has yet to achieve any sort of reliable function. For the complete story of how he printed his part and what it has taken to make it function you can go directly to the source, his blog at http://www.haveblue.org.

If you still think that you’ll be able to print a complete firearm in the near future consider this; the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Institute standard for chamber pressure for a .22 LR round, generally the smallest and lowest pressure rifle or handgun caliber, is 24,000 PSI, far beyond the thermoplastic capabilities used in most 3D printers. And just as a reference point, the SAAMI specification for .223, used in the commercial versions of the AR-15, is 55,000 PSI.

Once you mention firearms, many people’s minds just seem to stop functioning logically. 3D printer aficionados fear that they will become the 21st century equivalent of the samizdat producers of the Soviet Union.  I’ve seen claims from otherwise intelligent writers stating that they heard people are using their 3D printers to print AK-47s. There has been much crying, whining, and tearing of clothes as some pundits have bemoaned the fact that they will never be able get control of guns away from the public, if anyone can just print a gun.

The capability for an individual to produce a firearm at home is not a new one.  And I’m not talking about handcrafted muzzle loading replicas of 18th century pieces. In other countries, craftsmen have been building copies of bolt action firearms using nothing more than hand tools and dedication. And many semi-automatic firearms that are still in use today were designed using nothing more than early 20th century standard industrial equipment.

Plus any home hobbyist who purchased one of the complete work lathes for home use advertised in wood and metal working magazines for almost 100 years is capable of building a complete firearm from scratch, using well documented and time tested techniques that would give the person a completely functional and useful firearm made completely with their own hands. Not a printed firearm part that requires additional hands-on work and another 50 commercially manufactured pieces to be a functional gun.

 

Topics: Printers, Hardware

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36 comments
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  • Actually...

    >. In other countries, craftsmen have been building copies of
    >bolt action firearms using nothing more than hand tools and dedication

    Bolt action nothing. If you have the metal and tools to make a bolt action, you can make an automatic rifle -- you just need a design to know what to do.

    >The extraordinarily skillful gunsmiths of Darra Adam Khel can make replicas of anything
    >from small arms to AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns.
    http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=4721

    http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/03et8qMaPE3nb/610x.jpg
    Dal90
    • Follow up to my last post...

      Being Americans who can't be bothered with files and hand drills, while yes the current generation of 3D printers can't make many of the parts...all you need to is a few thousand bucks for a mini-mill from Harbor Freight, a laptop, some electronics, knowledge of soldering, and some software. Maybe $10,000 if you don't want to build it yourself and instead buy a complete CNC mini-mill. Once someone makes the program, then distributing over the internet is trivial.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujaQNg-FRX8

      But remember, we don't have to worry about this. As the "War on Drugs" compared the the FDA delaying introduction of new medicines for years has shown, the Government is able to enforce prohibitions far more successfully then they can enforce regulations.
      Dal90
      • Bouh

        I was planning to download a bazooka from the Internet. I thought I only needed a printer for that. I feel scammed.
        markbn
  • Lots of people like to hurt other people

    Idiots in prison figure out how to make lethal weapons out of tooth brush handles. If you don't think thousands of really smart 3D-printing-enthusiast engineers aren't going to figure out how to 3D print working firearms in less than a decade, you're either horribly naive or terribly stupid.
    RationalGuy
    • No, he would be pretty much on target

      Maybe one day a CNC mill will be able to do it without any hands on work, but not a 3D printer using inkjet technology. The pressure inside a firing chamber would destroy anything made by a 3D printer.

      Either you don't understand the technology, or you don't understand guns.
      T1Oracle
      • Maybe you don't understand engineering.

        These are merely problems to solve. I wrote, "in less than a decade." Maybe you can' read.
        RationalGuy
        • Problems to solve? They're already solved without the use of a 3 d printer

          But onto that technology, while it is good, it won't work for guns.
          The very nature of how its made precludes it from having the strenth or precision needed to make a firearm.

          The process leaves the printed object pitted and 'fractured' to the point where it won't have the strength to wistand the pressures generated by the shot. Also binding agents will expand differently given the size of the object, so parts won't grow or shrink uniformly.

          The parts in a gun are precision milled for a reason, and the raw metal itself is processed in such a way to give it the caracteristics needed to use. Powdered metals used in 3d printing are created in a way that allows them to be powered and to be able to be fused together for the 3d process, not with strength and durability in mind.
          William Farrel
      • Maybe you don't understand the technology

        You don't seem to know that thermoplastic isn't the only kind of 3d printer. DMLS can use almost any metal alloy to print, EBM can use titanium alloy or even SLS printing which can make steel, titanium or ceramic alloys. These are not cheap at the moment, but given time cost will come down.
        RD2838
    • Pretty stupid, actually. It's much easier to go down to the local

      thug on the corner and pick up a Chinese-made AK-47 smuggled in through chinatown.
      baggins_z
      • By this logic, Amazon.com can't work.

        Why not just go down to the corner store and buy what you need there?
        RationalGuy
        • do they sell weed on amazon? or assault rifles? grenade launchers?

          if that is Rational Guy speaking, im scared to read anything by a less rational.
          nitekatt
        • do they sell weed on amazon? or assault rifles? grenade launchers?

          if that is Rational Guy speaking, im scared to read anything by a less rational.
          nitekatt
      • By this logic, Amazon.com can't work.

        Why not just go down to the corner store and buy what you need there?
        RationalGuy
    • Actually...

      No, it's you that is horribly naive or terribly stupid. 3D printers are not CNC mills or lathes. They are incapable of producing the parts necessary to handle the incredible chamber pressures inherent in firearms. A 3D printed upper receiver or breech would blow apart in the first shot, injuring or killing the operator of the ill-conceived "weapon". 3D printers will never be capable of making full firearms, period.


      Plus, it has always been legal in the US to produce your own single-shot, lever/bolt-action, or semi-automatic firearm for personal use, without having to register it with the government. You simply cannot sell it or give it away; to do that you must put a serial number on it, then acquire a license to transfer firearms.
      koldobika2020
      • Horribly naive?

        Actually - I've seen full dense metal parts (stainless and titanium) from a 3dprinter used in high pressure and high temperature applications. Material properties rival machined. Do some research before spouting off.
        total3D
        • Things you are incapable of:

          1. Understanding how the future works.

          "They are incapable of producing the parts necessary"

          I wrote, "in less than a decade." I know this might be a lot to take in, but capabilities for engineered items get better as time goes forward.

          2. How punctuation marks work.

          "3D printers will never be capable of making full firearms, period."

          You don't have to write out the name of the punctuation mark you're about to use, exclamation point!

          3. How demand changes with mass production.

          "it has always been legal in the US to produce your own single-shot, lever/bolt-action, or semi-automatic firearm"

          Let's put asidefor the moment the fact that this statement is false. It was possible to build an automobile without a moving assembly line, too. I'm not sure what point you think you're making here.

          4. How crime works.

          "you must put a serial number on it, then acquire a license to transfer firearms"

          We'll be sure to tell criminals that they should acquire the proper license before they print off thousands and thousands of guns.
          RationalGuy
          • so your argument is that at some point in the future this will be possible?

            So you don't have a response to the article but simply felt like arguing that when some fundamental conditions change the author will be wrong. And you do that by insulting the the writer.

            Do you have this argument as a boilerplate for anything you disagree with? While the premise is correct it is an idiotic response to the article. The writer didn't make the argument that this would never be possible; he made the point that you can't do it now. And your response shows you understand that yet felt obligated to point out that may change in the future and attempted to make yourself sound more knowledgable by calling the author named.

            So, all in all, you've done nothing more than troll the thread and add no value.

            And, FWIW, it is and had been perfectly legal, under Federal law, for an individual to build a firearm from scratch for their own use since the founding of this country.
            RealityChecked
        • Having seen the items 3D metal printers produce in person

          I would have to disagree with you.
          Material properties of Printed objects do not rival that machined.

          You might want to do some research before talking on the subject. The various treatments of single poured metal transforms the lattice of the metal on a molecular level. Stainless steel printing requires a soft metal to be introduced into the object to allow it to bond layers during printing which changes the properties of the actual metal.

          With Titanium, you also lose that molecular lattice created when being produced, and no amount of heat treating or quenching will aline the molecules of the metals into one cohesive structure.

          The temperture needed to connect the separate lattices would melt the object, thus rendering the 3D printing process moot.
          John Zern
      • you havn't seen all printers

        You don't seem to know that thermoplastic isn't the only kind of 3d printer. DMLS can use almost any metal alloy to print, EBM can use titanium alloy or even SLS printing which can make steel, titanium or ceramic alloys. These are not cheap at the moment, but given time cost will come down.
        RD2838
  • Yet

    "No, you can’t download a gun from the Internet"

    Yet.

    But you can print one. Just not with the plastic desktop printers that are just becoming affordable.

    Laser-additive-manufacturing shops would have no trouble at all printing a functioning AA-12 with the right plans. But the equipment isn't cheap. Yet.

    Even with just the plastics the barrel is the primary issue. Some trial and error with common materials for the barrel plus printing the rest could easily grant a mostly printable crude-but-effective firearm.

    In the US none of this matters much because it is easier to acquire a good firearm than to create a bad one.
    SlithyTove