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Why the 3-D Printing Gun Debate is Moot

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The Shakespeare quote about “Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing” is relevant here.

Gun parts made from a 3-D printer | Image courtesy of Justin Pickard

A better man than I am coined a term to describe what happens in the news every time the anti-gunners realize that Second Amendment liberties are being exercised: “Pants-Sh*tting Hysteria,” or PSH. Now that plans for 3-D working firearms have hit the Internet, the PSH is achieving epic proportions. Before we add the color brown to our threat level charts, we should remember one thing: 3-D printed guns don’t matter. At all. Here’s why.

It is and always has been perfectly legal to manufacture guns for your own personal use.

Don’t believe us? Check it out.

Does an individual need a license to make a firearm for personal use?

No, a license is not required to make a firearm solely for personal use. However, a license is required to manufacture firearms for sale or distribution. The law prohibits a person from assembling a non–sporting semiautomatic rifle or shotgun from 10 or more imported parts, as well as firearms that cannot be detected by metal detectors or x–ray machines. In addition, the making of an NFA firearm requires a tax payment and advance approval by ATF.

[18 U.S.C. 922(o), (p) and (r); 26 U.S.C. 5822; 27 CFR 478.39, 479.62 and 479.105]

Last Reviewed November 6, 2017

Image by Boris, the gardener who fashioned a gun out of a shovel in order to shoot Peter Rabbit.

What’s more, doing so is actually not all that difficult. With a basic knowledge of ballistic principles, metallurgy, and machining, any Joe or Jane with a backyard metal shop can and always could make his or her own guns. Another bold claim, we know, so here’s more proof in the form of the tale of “Boris” and the real, working AK-47 he made out of a shovel—thereby improving the average accuracy of the AK.  (That link does contain some salty language, but we promise the edification and amusement contained therein is worth it.)

Thing is, what “Boris” did there isn’t unique at all. Right now, as you’re reading this, there are guys in the Afghan mountains making AK-47s over actual dungfires. Why AKs? Because that particular firearm has a relatively simple design with loose tolerances that keep it operable—if not awfully accurate at distance—even with imperfect manufacture and tough conditions. And that 47 in the gun’s name is the year of its first manufacture…70 years ago.

Now is also as good a time as any to remind the reader that, prior to the innovation of Samuel Colt, all firearms were manufactured piecemeal, by hand. This leads us to the second reason this whole 3-D printed guns debate is moot:

The cat is out of the bag, and has been for centuries.

Firearms manufactured the traditional way, from steel, are extremely durable goods. Properly stored and maintained, firearms manufactured in the sixteenth century can still be fired. (It’s crucial that the user employ era-appropriate ammunition, but that’s a subject for another article.) Basically, all a gun really is, is a method for containing and directing a small explosion with a projectile in front of it. Here’s one from the year 1350. As a historical relic that hand cannon is essentially priceless, so nobody’s going to try to actually shoot it, but if they did it would almost certainly work.

Is that a cannon in your hand, or are you just really happy to see me? | Image courtesy of nramuseum.org

So, for those keeping track, we are in the seventh century of firearms manufacture. Prior to the twentieth century, it wasn’t possible to track how many were made, who owned them, or what happened to them. Most of them are, theoretically, still usable. Additionally, guns were and remain of great value, and are commonly passed from generation to generation via inheritance. They’re not terribly large, so they’re easy to store indefinitely.

In short: The guns are already out there in their millions.

“Pleased to meet you. Do not even think about it.”

This author, personally, would not trust his safety to a 3D-printed gun—the plastic used is currently pretty much the same material they use to make LEGOs, so the idea of firing one kinda gives me the foot sweats. With improved materials and time, I might change my mind. But in the meantime, my pants are safe from PSH…and yours should be, too.

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