I was gonna write a witty intro to “hook” you and get you to read this article in full, but let’s be honest, 2000 words is a lot to write. I’m all out of witty writing for now!
So let’s just cover a couple of quick notes and then get right to it:
First, some of the questions on this list by their nature are charged. And by that, I mean they lean to one side or the other on the gun control debate. Obviously, I’m pro gun, and specifically, pro 3D printed guns. But I’ll do my best to answer even the anti-gun questions in a fair way.
Second, I’ve generated this list of questions based on Google search results/data. If a question wasn’t on the list, feel free to ask it in a comment below.
1. How do 3D printed guns work?
This question is a bit open to interpretation, as it could be read both as how do they fire bullets as well as how does the process of building a 3D printed gun work.
I’m going to interpret it the second way as we’ll answer the first interpretation in a later question “How do 3D printed guns shoot”.
It’s fairly simple to 3D print your own gun. It starts with a 3D printer, and you don’t need a specialty printer or anything, an Ender 3 will work just fine.
From there, most of the files will work with your standard PLA filament, though PLA+ is usually recommended. Still very easily obtainable.
You’ll obviously want to have your printer running well and tuned well for the filament, but I’m going to skip over that, as there are plenty of tutorials on the subject.
Next, you’ll want to decide what to print and obtain it’s stl files. This step leads to some confusion in a lot of people as most mainstream social media platforms have banned file sharing for 3D printed guns and related parts. You can find nearly everything on the fosscard repo, but you should also check the Deterrence Dispensed Speech page.
After that, simply follow the instructions and get printing. Most of the time, you’ll only be printing a part of the frame and using standard firearm parts to complete the build. This process is sort of similar to 80% builds.
However, there are a few designs which are fully or mostly 3D printed.
2. How many 3D printed guns are there?
By the decentralized, DIY nature of 3D printed guns, this is impossible to answer accurately. At least a couple thousand.
3. How do 3D printed guns shoot?
Fundamentally speaking, the same as any firearm. A catridge is loaded into a chamber, struck by a firing pin, and a round expelled through a barrel.
Now there’s a whole lot of difference in how that’s accomplished, depending on the design of course.
Some designs utilize entirely 3D printed components (including the chamber and barrel) and a few rubber bands. These are typically capable of firing a few rounds before breaking. They’re fairly inaccurate. And for all intents and purposes a standard firearm would serve you better.
Then there’s designs such as AR-15 lowers which take a 3D printed frame, but use standard firearm components for the barrel, internals, and everything else. They shoot about as well as any AR, though the designs are sometimes bulked up resulting in slightly worse ergonomics.
4. How effective are 3D printed guns?
It varies based on the design. Some designs, such as Freeman’s Glocks are just as effective as their real steel (or perhaps more appropriately, real polymer) counterparts. Depending on your print quality and the material they may fail sooner, but should be just as effective up until that point.
5. How to stop 3D printed guns?
In short, there’s no way to stop them. However, there are a few bans that are often floated, the most popular of which are:
- Plastic guns
- 3D Printed Guns (as an end product)
- The distribution of 3D printed gun files
Let’s talk about each point and their pros and cons for a minute, starting with a ban on plastic guns (I believe New York has passed something along the lines of this.
I’ll be up front with you. Banning plastic guns is the worst idea on the list, for one simple reason. Glocks. Glock makes nothing but polymer (plastic) framed pistols, and they’re the standard issue firearm for something like 90% of the American police force. Banning plastic guns would be too broad of a definition and would consequently result in many other firearms being considered illegal. The law would have to be written to specifically ban them for non police use, or police departments would need to spend a very large sum of money to upgrade to non-polymer based sidearms.
Next, is the idea to ban 3D printed guns (as an end product). This one’s tricky because you’re really banning a manufacturing method. So it’d be akin to saying that producing a wallet by hand is alright, but if you use a sewing machine to manufacture the wallet it’s now illegal. It could have unfortunate negative side effects for American businesses which are often turning to 3D printing to cheaply prototype new designs. Additionally, it still doesn’t prevent someone from producing a gun at home, and if anything encourages them to turn to less safe means of production such as a pipe gun.
Lastly is the banning of distribution for 3D printed gun files. This gets especially murky. Do we ban any 3D printed gun file from being distributed ever? If so, engineers at firearm companies could be committing an illegal act int he course of doing their job. Firearms designers could end up in prison just by the simple act of designing a firearm not meant for 3D printing but for standard manufacturing!
So perhaps we only ban gcode (used by printers to print). That doesn’t really stop 3D printed guns either as anyone could still share the CAD files and convert those to gcode. Simply put, it’d be too hard to implement an effective ban without causing a major issue for those within the firearms and defense industry.
But regardless of method chosen, at this point the files are already public domain and will live on either in the clear web or dark web. Without restricting 3D printing itself, there’s simply no way to stop a person willing to break the law from 3D printing a gun.
6. How reliable are 3D printed guns?
This again is one of those in which the answer depends on the design. On the high end, there are 3D printed guns that have fired 1000+ rounds. On the lowend, there’s designs which break after a single use.
7. How dangerous are 3D printed guns?
This can be interpreted in two ways: “How dangerous are 3D printed guns to the general public?” and “How dangerous are 3D printed guns to their users?”.
Let’s start with how dangerous 3D printed guns are to the public. Many fear that 3D printed guns could be used by people looking to commit an act of terrorism, but 3D printed guns have never been used in any incidences of gun violence. There have been a couple of arrests made, but these were all for people printing guns in regions which guns are prohibited.
Next we’ll look at how dangerous they are to their user. And again, 3D printed guns are generally quite safe. Most of the recommended designs are well tested and very unlikely to cause harm. I say very unlikely because even steel guns can malfunction in ways which cause bodily harm. I’ve not heard of/found any case of someone being injured by a 3D printed firearm.
8. How powerful are 3D printed guns?
3D printed guns are still guns. They’re just as powerful as the cartridge they’re firing.
Many of the mostly printed/fully printed guns are in pistol calibers, so they’re just as powerful as your average pistol. There are some rifle caliber designs as well, but as far as I know, nothing more powerful than 7.62×39 at this point.
Additionally, no shotguns (yet).
So, for your scattergat, anti-material, or long distance needs, you’ll still need a standard firearm.
9. What are 3D printed guns used for?
This is an interesting question, and one that really deserves it’s own blog post. I think, if we’re asking literally. They’re used to shoot bullets.
But obviously, that’s a gross oversimplification. I think I’d be remiss to not talk about what the broader movement behind 3D printed guns views their purpose as. And that’s to be a last resort for people in repressive regimes to defend themselves and those around them.
Take china for example. The vast majority of Hong Kong is rioting right now, fighting for their democracy, for their freedom. Obviously, they (and I) hope for a peaceful resolution, but already we see acts of violence being committed by the police, and military forces “performing drills” in a nearby city. We know the history of China and what they’re willing to do to those that push back against their government (Tienanmen Square).
If the Chinese government decides to act with aggression, what choice do the protesters have? If they don’t submit, there’s a high chance they’ll simply be massacred. They could stop fighting, and give up, but likely those who’ve protested will be tagged by facial scanners and suffer consequences later. (organ harvesting camps anyone?)
Simply put, if the Chinese government decided to escalate the situation, there’s little the people of Hong Kong could do. 3D printed guns would at the very least, give people in situations like that a chance to fight back.
10. How lethal are 3D printed guns?
A gun is a gun. Regardless of how it’s manufactured it will be lethal.
11. How deadly are 3D printed guns?
You may be asking, isn’t this the same question as the one above? Sorta. I chose to separate them as I’ll interpret this question as:
“how many people have been killed by 3D printed guns?”.
And as far as I’m able to tell, there are 0 reported incidences of someone being shot with a 3D printed gun.
12. Guy who 3D printed guns?
I’m assuming you mean Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed. But, you could also be referring to IvantheTroll or any other number of prominent figures currently in the 3D printing community.
13. Why are 3D printed guns bad?
I don’t think 3D printed guns are bad, but I’ll relay what I’ve heard anti-gun people say about them.
First, 3D printed guns are an easy(-ish) way to manufacture effective firearms at home. This enables individuals to bypass local gun control laws. The theory, cited by those against 3D printed guns, is that someone intent on committing an act of violence could 3D print a gun to use in such act when they’d normally be prohibited from possessing a firearm.
Secondly, it’s often said that 3D printed guns could bypass metal detectors. While, technically it’s feasible to print an undetectable firearm, it’s already prohibited by federal law. It’s for this reason that 3D printed guns which are made of entirely 3D printed parts often feature areas in which you can epoxy metal so they are detectable, and thus compliant with federal law.
Also, this question could be interpreted as one asked by a pro-gun individual in which they’re asking why they are bad compared to real steel guns.
A few years ago, 3D printed guns would’ve been considered less durable than standard polymer or steel guns, but with recent designs that’s no longer the case.