What if high-quality printed guns?

I’ve been mulling over this What-if since the recent change to the law in the US.

When we’ve discussed the topic on the Dope before, it’s mostly been people scoffing at how shit current printed guns are, and pointing out that it’s always been possible to Macgiver a sort-of gun: you just need a paperclip, a rubber band and some chewing gum.

So for this hypothetical let’s just start with the premise that you can print a reusable, powerful and accurate firearm that can take a clip / magazine / whatever, and is far superior in quality to anything you could make sans workshop + expertise.

What happens next?

My own feeling is that in the US, there’s little change. Gun manufacturers won’t like people being able to obtain guns for essentially free, and obviously proponents of gun control won’t like them, so eventually printing a gun without the proper permission to do so becomes a severely-punished crime, a bit like photocopying paper currency. Few people bother compared with other means of obtaining weapons.

Outside the US though I think it will make a difference, as the fabled “Bad guys will have guns no matter what” actually starts to become true in countries that right now have good gun control. Guns might become more common worldwide :frowning:

A printer that would print a gun would cost serious money, so it is cheaper to just buy from your local legal or illegal local gun dealer.

Yeah I don’t think it will make a lick of difference in the US, where there already are more guns than people.
I don’t believe it would make *that *much difference outside of the US however. Illegal guns are not that hard to come by here in France for example, and we know for a fact that there are plenty of AKs and similar floating around in the ghettos. The difference is that, because the penalty for simply being caught with one of them shits is harsh and swift, they’re seldom used in anger or in street crimes. They tend to only surface during big gang wars, with gangs/terrorists actively planning on shooting cops and in high profile bank robberies/money truck highjackings ; because at this point since the crime itself already nets one serious jail time then what the fuck, right ? Might as well go big.
But nobody wants to spend five to ten in the slammer over an Iphone and a wallet. That’s what box cutters are for.

So they might become more common practically speaking (inasmuch as 3D printers are common amongst the criminal class - are they ?), but not more used and the average citizen won’t really see a difference on any given day.
They might make the occasional nutcase rampage more deadly though.

But there are still many more terrorist attacks with knives than with guns (the shootings are more well-known because they tend to claim a higher bodycount). So there is the sad potential for a worsening of that situation.

Right now they aren’t common, period. I guess I should include in the OP that part of the premise is that they become relatively common consumer devices.

When the technology is that much further advanced, ISTM very likely that the technology for preventing the printer from printing certain types of items will have increased too. Including perhaps that every such printer silently/secretly inserts its owner’s ID signature into everything it prints.

Don’t be fooled by the few outliers - guns already are super-common worldwide, no 3D-printers needed. I don’t see what they bring to the equation that the flood of arms to criminals from the various global conflicts doesn’t already supply. I could rent an AK or Galil by the day, because of those sources. Adding in making your own guns seems like an unnecessary trouble to go to.

Now, if you could 3D-print ammo, that’d be a real game changer.

A lot of the smaller 3D printers out there now are open source and home-assembled. That kind of community is not conducive to the kind of control you’re suggesting. Sure, Dremel or Amazon or whoever may bring out their own mass-produced printers with that ID tech - but I think they’re going to be undercut by the open-source printers that can print copies of themselves, which is the direction the tech is heading - every time I read something new about what the MIT labs are doing, I’m blown away at how fast the tech is progressing.

Cite that a gun printing device costs more than a gun in 2040? They give away modern 2D printers for, practically, free and the raw cost of metallic print gels is likely to be not much more than a rod of steel of the same size.

NPR just did a segment on this the other day. I’m sure if you search their website, you can access it. It also had something to do with someone challenging a law on 1st amendment grounds (free speech) concerning the distribution of code for printing such a gun. Not 2nd amendment, but 1st amendment.

If we assume a 3D printer capable of making a reliable gun became available to the public at a cheap price and the resulting gun was cheaper than anything a gun manufacturer could compete with I suspect gun manufacturers would lean on the government to ban 3D printed guns.

What would be interesting to see is what side the NRA would take.

All that said I would be surprised if anything we are ever likely to have access to for the home would be able to compete, price-wise, with mass produced guns (it’s not just the price of the printer but the price of raw materials and cost to operate the equipment).

Here’s another hypothetical: What happens when it becomes easy to make a gun using a consumer-grade CNC mill? Answer: You’re looking at it. That’s been the case for years now.

In theory you could print the bullet and the shell but the gunpowder could not be printed (although I see no reason you couldn’t make gunpowder at home assuming it was legal but you can just buy it in a can if you want). After that you would have to assemble it which would be tedious for lots of ammo.

I can not imagine a home-brewed bullet would ever be as reliable as a manufactured one from very tight-tolerances to precise amounts of gunpowder in each shell, to reliable, unchanging assembly across thousands of shells. You could do it by why would you want to?

But again this is perhaps assuming we’re talking about a country with liberal gun laws already.

I’m British. I have no idea where I would get a gun from (apart from if you live in the countryside and try to apply for a shotgun legally), and neither would most people. In Britain, and much of the developed world, it wouldn’t need to be cheaper to a game changer.

But this is fighting the OP. Yes you can make a basic firearm if you’ve bought equipment specially for that purpose and have sufficient know-how. And it will be a basic firearm unless you started with a good replica, which is already problematic in countries with gun control (even high-quality replicas are registered and you can be prosecuted for buying/selling illegally).
Big difference between that and a scenario where you can decide one day to click on a gun blueprint instead of a coat-hanger.

Correct. I started a mediocre thread on the subject based on the case as it was covered in Wired:


So, OK, if this happened something like the description, it would be essentially an escalation in an arms race. So - equally hypothetical - Do the police develop remote sensors for ammunition and/or someone who’s using ammo cloaking technology, and are they under orders to shoot first if they detect any on you?

3D printed guns are the shiny distracting object. The technology to mill a lower receiver (I’m not a gun guy so forgive me if my language is inaccurate) out of metal exists and is fairly cheap. This is the part of the gun that is serialized. I heard they arrested a guy in California recently who had milled 15 ar-15s.

The OPs premise is that you can print a “a reusable, powerful and accurate firearm that can take a clip / magazine / whatever”. That’s not true today, except possibly for high end industrial metal sintering printers, and even they, I think, would require a lot of post-printing polishing of parts to get the smooth tolerances required for an accurate and reliable firearm.

So what is missing in this scenario is some information on the printer used. What does it cost? What other uses are people buying them for?

I mean, if it’s a printer than everyone buys just for fun, you might have huge problem. But if they’re not ubiquitous, and some people buy them mainly to make guns, a would be nu-gun manufacturer is going to have to worry about any customer ratting on him, and the laws against making illegal guns are going to have harsh punishments, and the price of a gun made this way will increase as well.

Sure, it will have consequences, but it’s not like it’s not just going to be a different part of the illegal gun economy where you need to know a guy who knows a guy who can get you what you need.

This. And there is even a CNC specifically designed to make gun parts.

Home 3D printers can only print plastic. There’s only so much you can do with plastic. SLS (selective laser sintering) 3D printers can print metal, but they cost >$5000, and the result is much weaker than machined metal.

Not so much… AR-15 lower receivers are not a particularly stressed part, and are made adequately out of some plastics. (the lower receiver is the part of the gun with the serial number and is considered “the gun” for legal purposes).

So there’s no reason someone couldn’t 3D print a lower and just mail-order everything else (there are no legal restrictions) and put it together themselves.

Its not the chewing gum, its the chewing gum wrapper that you need.