3D Gun-Printing Technology is Getting Worryingly Better

An American bunch of pro-gun techies has spent the past couple months sinking time and money into a project to create a ‘Wiki-weapon’, a 3D printed gun that anyone can download and build for themselves. Up until now, they’ve been a bit of a joke, but their latest efforts seem to be bearing some fruit. And that scares me witless.

The group, called Defence Distributed, has been concentrating on designs for a high-capacity magazine for AR-series assault rifles, one of the more common weapons in America. Focussing on designing magazines rather than actual guns makes sense for Defence Distributed: not only are magazines more viable to be made from plastic than say, real guns, high-capacity magazines have also been banned in New York in the wake of the recent spate of shootings. Making and distributing plans for a 3D magazine, then, is an easy way for anti-gun-control activists to make a statement, ‘keep their liberty’, and stick it to the man.

They’re being successful, too. Their latest magazine design — the ‘Cuomo Mag‘ — seems to function perfectly correctly, as an AR magazine should. While I admire the level of technical dedication and innovation Defence Distributed have put into the project, from a more practical standpoint, their actions are difficult to condone. Yes, today it’s just magazines — not a serious cause for concern here in the Australia, since the weapons to use aforementioned magazines with are still extremely hard to come by. The worry lies a few years down the road, when 3D printing has advanced and 3D-printed weapons are feasible. Once that happens, projects like Defence Distributed will be making it exponentially easier for anyone who wants a firearm to get one.

This doesn’t seem to be something that Defence Distributed has clearly thought through. In fact, in the interview above, Defence Distributed’s founder says “I’m just resisting. What am I resisting? I don’t know.” The fact is, this is clearly a project born out of America’s ongoing gun control debate; the problem is that Defence Distributed aren’t just affecting everyone in the United States, but the rest of the world as well. Even Israel’s felt the need to weigh in on the issue, with a typically Israeli statement: “Law enforcement officials should have the power to stop high-capacity magazines from proliferating with a Google search.”

Imagine, for a second, an Australia where getting your hands on a firearm requires as much technical know-how and materials as a DIY project on a Saturday afternoon. A country where gun proliferation is even higher than it is in the United States. It would fundamentally change our culture; whether you think for better or for worse is a matter of opinion, but I don’t think it’s a question that we should let a bunch of American gun nuts answer for us. I don’t know what the solution is — and I doubt that there’ll be an easy one — but the issue of Wiki weapons is a serious one, and one that needs proper, reasoned and global debate, away from the fever-pitch hysterics of the American pro-gun lobby.

Our newest offspring Gizmodo UK is gobbling up the news in a different timezone, so check them out if you need another Giz fix.


Comments

    What frighteningly ridiculous tools.

      what a frighteningly ridiculous statement.

      Australia is far from ever becoming anything like the US. We don't have a 2nd amendment, if a criminal breaks into your house you don't even have the right to defend yourself.

      I personally would much prefer knowing my neighbourhood is armed to the teeth and able to defend themselves from both domestic and international threats, than not even being able to defend myself from a crim who is able to sue me if they trip over the back doorstep on their way out.

      This technology will never be able to build a firearm.

        This technology will never be able to build a firearm.

        What an amazingly stupid comment, as this type of technology develops of course you will be able to get functionality out of currently non functioning item.

        Give it a few years, hopefully I'm proved wrong.

          You might have to wait for a few years for someone to actually do it, but 3D printing is powerful enough today to make a complete firearm, rifled barrel and all. Not at home of course, but potentially gun runners with a spare couple of million could set up a very profitable and less traceable business.
          The only thing scarier than everyone having a gun, is only people who want a gun having one.

          If by 'give it a few years' you mean 150, I may concede you could be right. If you knew anything about 3d printers you would realise they only print with plastic, and a gun can't be made with only plastic. 3d printing cannot replicate high strenth precision rifled barrels and components. Let alone hold up to firing projectiles. This is not futurama mate.

          What your talking about is light years away, 3D printers being able to use metal to print which while it can be done, is in the 100's of 1000's and is still not capable of printing reliable firearms.

          I stand by my statement

            oh man, you literally have no idea about 3d printing do you? you can already print in wood, glass, high tensile resins, there are even metal 3d printers, as well as biological.

            I opened the article to say exactly this. Not to mention when dealing with high power rifles the last thing I would be trusting is a 3D printed rifle. Despite how they look, they are incredibly precise pieces of equipment.

            This technology will never be able to build a firearm.
            Video of a 3D printed AR15 being fired to failure (not all parts are 3d printed)- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLlJshR6nvg
            Video of 3D metal printer - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28B8NvBFU0E

            This technology is not as far away as most people would think. Yes, the high end 3D printers required to print a gun are incredibly expensive at the moment, but as with all cutting edge technology, prices will inevitably fall.

        Thank god we aren't anything like the U.S. I pray that it stays that way.

        A bunch of low I.Q.'s running around with guns is no place I would like to be.

        You stay over there and we'll stay over here.

        Last edited 11/02/13 6:06 pm

          Deal....although I would to send Prez Obongo over to you for a permanent visit.

        Actually, you can use all reasonable and necessary force to defend yourself.. You are incorrect sir

        I am sorry sir but do you have an ass for a hat?
        The amount of children being killed lately should show you how stupid it is that these idiots have access too weapons of this caliber. I'm sure if they were allowed guns on plans 911 wouldn't have happened. Fuck you

        With MASSIVE qualifiers, you are at least partly correct.

        The current technology available and feasible for consumers coupled with the current materials ('printing' stock) available and feasible for consumers will not enable someone to create a 100% replacement for a commercially available rifle.

        The first issue, though, is that the results do not have to be 100% to be capable of ending someone's life. The IEDs found and triggered daily by troops and civilians in the Middle East are not up to the standard of military-issued devices and some do not detonate or do so inefficiently. That doesn't mean that thousands of lives and families have not been destroyed by them.

        If the thought of thousands of disaffected adolescents, mentally unstable loners and violent gang members with access to cheap, untraceable, uncontrollable, 80% effective weapons doesn't worry you then I don't see how you can be made to see reason.

        BUT, the second issue is that the technology is really in its infancy. I am reminded of those military men who discounted aeroplanes as being quite clever and all that but really not practical as anything other than a toy. Aeroplanes were viewed as inefficient due to their expense, fragility and unreliability.

        As was proved with the aeroplane and numerous other now ubiquitous technologies, mankind will continue to develop new and better materials and techniques, rendering once inefficient technologies viable, and then dominant. Computers small enough to sit on a table? Outrageous. Cheap enough for a teenager to own? Impossible. On a single chip? Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand? Common enough to be inserted into even children's toys? It has only been 40 years since the first home hobbyist computers became available and now most people carry at least one around in their pocket.

        Most people have learnt those lessons and see infant technologies as just needing more work and advances. That's why most people familiar with 3D printing see almost limitless potential, given appropriate advances in materials and continued work on the processes.

        Look at all the amazing engineering projects that have occurred when new techniques have met with new materials - ships, buildings, space shuttles, even seemingly simple things like adhesives and clothing. Looks at the advances in materials through recent history - from steels to advanced alloys, to ceramics and polymers and myriad almost magical compound materials. Even bio-materials and organic fibers; it's not stopping.

        In short, it takes someone with a truly breathtaking paucity of imagination (and knowledge of history) to come out with such a blanket statement as 'this technology will never be able to build a firearm'.

      Yeah, Glenn Beck sure is frightening & ridiculous.

    Wiki-Weapons feels like the next big news buzzword

    I hope they are working on a 3D printable bullet proof vest, because we are all going to need them soon it would seem

    Absolute freaking morons

      3-D Printed power armour. :D

        3d printed power armour? I would SOOO do that...

          For all we know the suits used in Iron Man could very well be fabricated by 3D printing the components and putting them together

    Nothing to worry about. These guys will be locked down with some airtight NDAs once DARPA comes a-knockin

      Designs are already going up on The Pirate Bay, cat's out of the bag.

    Seriously?

    How is this even a big deal.... oh no.... if you have expensive $1000 - $10,000 equipment, the accompanying software and the know how you can print a gun....

    A gun is a perfectly simply machine... you could make one in your shed.. hell, my dad made a .22 by himself when he was like 16 back on the farm.

    I love how with the addition of being able to do it effortlessly, using technology and for a shitload of money, it THEN becomes an issue.

      this tech is coming to our houses in the next 'few' years.... your kids will be printing GUNS at home with this while you at work... other thn that there is nothing scary about it

        First of all, this was bound to happen as technology advanced and production was simplified. Anyone that thinks otherwise is naive. Second, regardless of technology, there will always be someone out there to corrupt it sooner or later.

        Although I plan to own a 3D printer in the future, my children will never be "printing guns at home with this while I'm at work". I will be a responsible parent as any other person who has children should be. This article and comments are treading on endless debate of internet filtering which I strongly oppose. Yes, there are dangerous things that exist on the internet, that is why parental control is essential. Why are people so afraid to take personal responsibility?

          for some reason I think you don't have kids :)

      It's like $600 for this one...
      http://www.robo3dprinter.com/

      So it's not cheap, but 3D printing is hardly prohibitively expensive to the general consumer and it'll only get more available. It's at least a bit concerning if people can just download then 3D print guns.

      Last edited 11/02/13 3:49 pm

        Wow. That could probably print most of a Nerf gun.

        People need to learn the technical difference between the capability to print a magazine - a box with a spring inside that holds bullets - and the capability to make a gun - a device designed to create high temperature gasses that accelerate projectiles to supersonic velocities.

        A cheap 3dprinter might be able to make a magazine, but any attempt to make more than a few minor parts of a gun is going to result in a Darwin award nomination.

          My understanding is that the current technology can create a hand gun that can be fired two or three times.

            You obviously do not possess an understanding if this is your understanding. Fail.

              He's not far off, you're the one that fails.

              http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=3d-printable-gun-part-fails

              It lasted six shots before breaking, and that's when only one part of the gun was made with a 3D printer. If the entire thing was printed, I'd imagine it'd last less than six shots.

                please sir. understand that the only part that requires machining and CAN'T be built with what i have lying around my garage is the barrel. even carbon fiber fails to be a stable barrel liner by it's self. to get a metal tube of the adequate length, strength and tolerances required even ignoring rifling is nigh on impossible without a lathe.

          Have you actually used a 3D printer or are you just speculating. You do realise most of them are able to print ABS or PLA. ABS is the material which you want. So long as the printer has the required resolution it can print a reasonably strong part...

          People need to learn the technical difference between the capability to print a magazine - a box with a spring inside that holds bullets - and the capability to make a gun - a device designed to create high temperature gases that accelerate projectiles to supersonic velocities.

          . . . and people need to learn the difference between the current state of an emerging technology and the future of that technology.

          A cheap 3dprinter might be able to make a magazine, but any attempt to make more than a few minor parts of a gun is going to result in a Darwin award nomination.

          It's full-well possible that people attempting to download and follow such instructions may kill themselves. Surely that can't be an argument to not worry about it?

          Even so, history is full of many unsung people who died inventing, customising, tweaking and testing devices. Just think of all the pioneers and brave test pilots that died to get us where we are today. I am not suggesting that a bunch of people killing or injuring themselves in that way is a service to humanity in this instance, just that people dying due to the infant nature of a technology does not mean that the technology will not one day be commonplace.

          Look beyond today, not at what the current technology does but what it is heralding for the future.

          Just remember, that there are many pro-gun groups and individuals with vast resources and technical skills.

      When i was younger (10 or so) i lived next to an engineer, i sat in his workshop one day and watched him build (within a few hours) a .22 pistol that fired via an airplunger, like a toy, it looked like a bicycle pump with a trigger.
      Was accurate upto 20 metres as well.

      I still remember every step, and all it took was some simple tools and ingenuity.

      Last edited 11/02/13 5:16 pm

        Righht mate a real handgun is not accurate past 50m so I find your story a little hard to believe.

          depends on your definition of accuracy. hitting a man sized board at 20 metres is easy enough, drilling 5 holes through a 10c peice at 50 is a challenge

      I agree, the restriction here is and will all ways be ammunition, this hole debate reminds me of a improvised gun from East Timor which was on display at the military museum in Canberra I remembered it shocked me how simple it was, just a simple plank of wood with a door hinge to hold the bullet and a sharpened bolt as a striker and it used conventional ammunition.

      So yeah I will wait till we can print 3d ammo till I start worrying

      Yep.

      Equipment and materials to make a crappy quality AR-15 $10K.
      Price of a real one made by professionals that won't blow up in your face and kill you - $3-4K.
      Price of a 10+ year jail sentence: Priceless.

        $10k worth of equipment and materials?? Wtf are you talking about, you can get 3D printers for about $1000, with the plastic refills costing less than $100/kg.

    Kids are more than capable of doing this today.

    Their are videos on youtube on how to turn a pen into a .22 that is capable of lethal force.

    Bullets do all the work, a gun is simply a container for accurately and safely directing an explosion. They're not hard for anyone to make. But the more shots it fires the less reliable and safe it becomes. Making an automatic weapon is far, far more difficult than making a single shot pseudo gun.

      So much THIS.

      Hell, even CSI knew that a 3d printed weapon would probably only ever get one shot off with the same accuracy of the gun it was modeled from, and that was with a pistol.

      all true, but for your words on an automatic. automatic copys of mp40s and the like can be made with the barrel and reciever, mainspring, bolt, mag, leafspring and trigger.
      7 parts.
      a single shot just forgets the mag, some fine tuning and mabie the leafspring and trigger.

    Until I see "3D printed bullets", I don't think I'm going to worry much.

      That would be among the easiest plans to print. I've seen some hardened polymer armor piercing style shells that jam the fuck out of a gun, but they do work.

      Really? This is about circumventing existing and proposed control measures, not about making a firearm from scratch in a completely gun-free society.

    GUNS DONT KILL PEOPLE. PEOPLE PULL THE TRIGGERS TO KILL PEOPLE. this is what it has come to people who cant be responsible gun owners. after martin bryant (1 dude) we basically banned guns. I mean cigarettes kill more people yet they arent banned. it is the most retarded thing ever! and I say this is frigging brilliant.

      cigarettes, and alcholol provide a massive amount of revenue for the government that is why.

      I agree - don't ban guns - ban people from owning them. Oh wait . . .

      So many people give the same kind of comparison you do and all focus on the one common element, to the exclusion of the truly relevant difference. Yes, people die as a result of cigarettes and guns, but the OVERWHELMING majority of people who die from smoking-related illness are the people who did the smoking. The people who die as a result of guns, on the other hand, are almost always the someone other than the person using the gun.

      Taking your own argument, though, you are contradicting yourself - cigarettes don't kill people, People smoking cigarettes kill people.

      The simplest way to put it is that people smoking cigarettes kill themselves while people shooting guns kill other people. That's why someone dying from cancer after smoking for 40 years isn't called murder.

      The problem with the gun lobby is that they are just the vocal group and hold the most black-and-white views.

      I have neither read, nor heard, a single pro-gun explanation of how exactly the restriction of high-capacity magazine or a particular style of firearm, while still allowing many, many other types of guns, is a breach of their coveted Second Amendment rights.

    Um, there is not a lot too difficult about making a bullet....

    Casting sinkers out of lead, or a bullet out of lead is sort of the same....

    People make the mistake of calling the package bought from the gun shop a bullet. the bullet is the part that flies through the air....

    Ammo... Cartridge, can be made out of plastic, paper or brass.... (shotguns are fairly effective)
    Could easily be made using a mid range 3D printer... (or a toilet paper roll and sticky tape)

    Bullet (lead), could be made using Direct Metal laser sintering (DMLS), but easier to cast, also there isn't a SLS machine for under a "reasonable amount" and the manufacturing volume isn't really long enough to make a decent rifle barrel in a single piece (pistol barrel only).... also the grain structure may not be suitable for firing, for replica use only....

    Powder.... for a cloud of smoke, black powder is really easy to make with supplies bought from the local nursery, smokeless powder is a little harder.. (contact local meth lab for supplies and know-how).

    Primer, this is probably the hardest (and most dangerous) bit to make, though there are many simple how-to videos on the net for making very unstable touch powder (will explode if touched with a feather), the primer is just a little more stable than that...

    Ok so the Ammo (Cartridge, Bullet, powder and Primer), can't be easily 3D printed, but an afternoon in the kitchen - chem lab, and shed would come up with some unreliable though functional ammo.... (Maybe stick with making a flintlock, and you only need the bullet and powder)

    Now, about 3D printing the barrel and receiver, that is a little harder...... Some of these things still need a little skill, ingenuity and a few machines (readily second hand machines available for a relatively low price., or new for $3-10k... ) choose your Price...

    All of the Milled pieces on a regular gun (apart from the barrel) are able to be made with a file and hacksaw... Remember toolmakers used to make high quality tools with nothing more than these tools and a scraper.....

    What people need to know, is that the Technology shouldn't be blamed, people have been making these devices for many years, where there is a will there is a way.... Sure some things may be easier to do now... but remember that if you aren't willing to spend at least several thousand dollars on (3D printer / Mill / lathe ) you aren't going to be able to easily make a very functional reliable multishot (not even talking automatic) weapon...

    Be more scared of the crazy with a butchers knife, he may not be able to kill 30 people in one afternoon, but he sure can kill you....

    Last edited 11/02/13 5:05 pm

    Someone prints a gun magazine (the thing that holds bullets) and shares this.

    Everyone goes crazy thinking someone is printing whole functional guns, and spreading this all over the web.

    I draw everyone's attention to the discrepancy between the facts in the article, and their hysteria.

    Everyone goes back and reads the article,.

    Everyone feels stupid.

    Everyone forgets to thank me, but that's OK, I assume that inside, you're all really grateful, (some people may even criticize this comment, but it's actually gratitude in disguise, because people are either too humble or unwilling to admit they are wrong in public forums, I am cool with this).

    To create the barrel of a gun or rifle, you use a lathe. Rotate a solid lump of metal, and slowly shove a drill down the middle. So of course - we need to ban lathes, right?
    From a practical perspective, I'd be more worried about 3D printing of the parts to required build such a weapons-capable lathe.
    But - lathes aren't exciting enough to make headlines.
    Neither is the weapon-grade steel stock, you need to cut out the barrel.

    So they 3d printed something that's normally made out of sheet metal. Its not like you couldnt make them at home before.

      sheet metal? dafuq did i read. our babys are made of the finest hammer forged steel

    It would take me and my crew 3 hours to build a lethal 'moderate range' rifle out of crap around a house (granted we'd need to pull some copper pipes and destroy your BBQ) and about 25 minutes, probably far less if you Garden much, for me to make a bomb that would rip the front of your house off and shatter every window for a block. Skill and motive is all anyone needs to make lethal weapons a future 3D printer can make far worse than a gun, trust me.

    Pretty sure being able to make a magazine and making an actual rifle are quite different.
    It would be practically impossible to make any sort of firearm from a 3D printer unless it utilizes metal, as the force of the bullet would shatter the plastic.
    Barrels are metal for a reason.

    I see doubters. 100 years ago flying wasn't possible, 50 years ago there was no such thing as the personal computer. Technology progresses at an alarming rate, and people who think a 3d printed gun is impossible 'just because' would do well to think again.

    Besides, currently the issue is still magazine capacity. Nobody's being restricted from buying a 'modern sporting rifle' or whatever they're called, so those guns are all precision made and everything. It's more that these people are pioneering ways to circumvent laws that are there to protect everyone, including their children, from crazies, but nobody will see the sense in it until their kids get shot up unfortunately.

      Spot on mate.

      The loud and influential pro-gun crowd will ensure that any precision parts will be easily available.

      One of the great things about the technology is that it's easily alterable - you don't need special tooling. The exact same device that can make an extended 9mm magazine can the very next moment print a high-capacity magazine for the popular AR-15.

    I saw this simple graphic as an argument against gun control, I wonder what people here think.

    It's hard to argue that, if guns are strictly illegal, by definition the only people who own them are criminals and government agents.

    http://i.imgur.com/GnfDaWP.png

      The short version is that it is overly simplistic and used because it helps hide the relevant data. There are two big problems with it:

      1. 0-5 is pretty low-resolution
      2. It makes no mention of gun killings (as distinct from other murders)

      Taking the first point, if you look at that map overlayed with a map of the Human Development Index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_World) you will see that it actually matches almost perfectly, with more developed countries exhibiting a lower homicide rate.

      The concurrence is astounding - pay particular attention to New Guinea where the HDI matches the homicide rate for the two nations.

      So, really, the map you provided just says that the US is a first-world country. As it's not really helpful to compare the murder rate in a first world country like the US to less-developed nations like Sudan or Puerto Rico, you have to compare the US to other first-world nations.

      When you do that, you find that the US has the highest homicide rate of all recognised first-world nations, with 4.8 (per 100,000). That's compared to 1 for Australia, with very strict gun control, and 1.2 (a QUARTER) in the UK, where even the police are largely unarmed!

      To the second point, addressing gun killings specifically, the below table is helpful (though admittedly old):

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447364/table/t3/

      That data shows that those states with the highest gun ownership have more firearms murders than those with low gun ownership.

      Now, such data may not provide a perfect correlation between gun ownership and gun murders for every single population, and it might not provide a perfect argument for gun control, but what it (and other similar data) does show, is that the well-worn line trotted out by the pro-gun lobby at every opportunity is just not true; the claim that the best way to prevent shootings is to give more people more guns turns out to be as ridiculous and unfounded as everyone on the other side of that fence has always maintained.

      But still, pro-gun folk spokespeople will come out time and again with the same isolated examples of an armed civilian stopping a potential shooting spree - some quite accurate, some . . . pure speculation. Recently notable is a young man lauded by pro-gun groups for having 'saved dozens' of lives by simply being seen with a gun by the shooter. Those groups largely neglect to say that the shooter's weapon jammed and he fled, out of sight of the supposed saviour, before killing himself.

      Undoubtedly the young man was very brave but it's a stretch to say he is responsible for saving dozens of lives.

      This brings us back to the article. Gun control is not about banning all guns, it's about CONTROLLING access to guns. The most publicised measure is to stop the proliferation of the 'military-style' assault rifles, such as the AR-15 used in both the recent Sandy Hook shootings and the pro-gun case of the armed citizen stopping short a mall shooting.

      Of course, the AR-15 was used by the shooter; the supposed hero used a handgun. In fact, almost all of the over-used examples of 'armed civilians' preventing shootings have the civilian in question armed with a handgun.

      So what do I think . . . ?

    On my first day at Uni our metals and machines lecturer passed around 3 rifles (all licenced) that he had made at home. He told us pay attention in class and with the right equipment you too will be able to do this. He also told us about his time teaching in Canada where each student made a blunderbuss in class then they had a field trip where they went and shot them. Also in my home town of Geraldton W.A. there was a man found with a single shot handgun and 5 shot revolver all homemade (to a very high standard) that took shot gun shells (sorry don’t know the size). So all the 3D printing is doing is giving less skilled people access to weapons. Thankfully I don’t think they can 3D print gunpowder… yet.

    Not a problem. The people with the discipline to assemble and operate a 3d printer, are the same people who have enough disposable income and ingenuity to get a firearms licence and buy their own gun. In Australia, 600 weapons are stolen each year, and yet the police confiscate >3000 guns from criminals each year. You don't need a 3d printer to get a gun, And there's no reason to be afraid of the people who know enough to build & operate a 3d printer. They're not your dangerous emotional panicmongers.

    3D printing is the buzz phrase of the moment because it has the word "printing" (so it sounds attainable) and you can download plans for stuff.
    The reality is that it's not reality that practical with things like guns, but it doesn't have to be- there are lots of computer controlled metal fabrication machines around these days. They're too expensive for home use but small to medium businesses have them or can hire them (fully modular models that can be delivered on-site). Basically you can make real guns from digital plans already.

    Well, preventing the dissemination of information has rarely been historically successful, so let's assume we can't stop people sharing these files. So the options are either (a) ban 3D printers, or (b) assume that in the future everyone who wants a gun will be able to print a gun, and focus on education and culture so that people use their guns as responsibly as they use their other highly deadly possessions such as cars, fireworks and poisons. I suspect 3D printers are ultimately going to be far too useful to make (a) a long term solution, so let's all start preparing for (b) now.

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