The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and 3-D Printers…

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People who know me know I don’t support any additional firearm or ammunition restrictions, registration lists or prohibitions that this author  – text follows below – likely would support. In fact the existing ones should be rolled back, the incident in Aurora, CO was a massacre because all the victims were required by law to be unarmed targets – but that is not the topic I am interested in here.

I currently work with or have worked with SolidWorks, AutoCAD, Pro-E and Alibre. The design software today is outstanding and when I started my career only a small number of companies had stereolythography (because of how expensive it was). It allowed them to make representative models out of resin. My eyes were opened when I first saw a 3-D printer make functional poly-propylene proto-types before my eyes a few years back. No tooling or exhaustive and complex subtractive manufacturing process was required, it was almost entirely an additive process, it was quick and was much less expensive. Alibre offers a competitive modeling software on a budget and even offers 3-D printers and the CADCAM conversion software necessary to build what you drew. There are high-strength plastics that can work very well in this application and I have read that there are even 3-D printers in the works that will use aluminum powder. Through ultrasonic 3d printing the aluminum melts and essentially is welded back together.

A law against firearms or manufacturing your own parts so as to build your own matters not to the dedicated sociopath who wants to do harm to his fellow humans. The technology genie cannot be put back in the bottle no matter how much money the government steals from you to try and get it back in. How many trillions will be spent adopting the new responsibilities of the ATF3DP?

The End of Gun Control?

By Mark Gibbs

Given the recent appalling events in Aurora, Colorado, there’s been a renewed call for greater gun control and a ban on assault weapons.

I’m in favor of tighter gun control and a ban on weapons that are unnecessarily powerful but I’m afraid that technology will soon make any legislation that limits the availability of any kinds of guns ineffective.

To understand why this might happen, you need to understand a technology called 3D printing.

3D printing allows you to build things that are, as the name implies, three dimensional. A few years ago 3D printers were very rare, hugely expensive, and hard to use. But as with anything that can be driven by computers, 3D printers has become cheaper and cheaper to the point where, today, you can buy a 3D printer, off the shelf, for as little $500.

Using either free or low cost computer aided drafting software you can create digital 3D models of pretty much anything you can think of and, with hardly any fuss, your 3D printer will render them as physical objects.

The only constraints on what you can print are that the size of the printed object (typically a maximum of 6 inches by 6 inches by 6 inches unless you spend more money on your printer ; the bigger the final object you want, the more you’ll have to spend), the material printed (all of the low end printers can, at present, only print with thermosetting plastics; very high end printers can print with ceramics and metals), and the resolution of the printer (for current low end printers this is typically around 0.1mm).

So, can you print a gun? Yep, you can and that’s exactly what somebody with the alias “HaveBlue” did.

To be accurate, HaveBlue didn’t print an entire gun, he printed a “receiver” for an AR-15 (better known as the military’s M16) at a cost of about $30 worth of materials.

The receiver is, in effect, the framework of a gun and holds the barrel and all of the other parts in place. It’s also the part of the gun that is technically, according to US law, the actual gun and carries the serial number.

When the weapon was assembled with the printed receiver HaveBlue reported he fired 200 rounds and it operated perfectly. [UPDATE] HaveBlue uploaded his digital model to several 3D model archives and at least one, Makerbot, has since banned gun designs but has allowed HaveBlue’s receiver model to remain in their Thingiverse 3D object archive.

What’s particularly worrisome is that the capability to print metal and ceramic parts will appear in low end printers in the next few years making it feasible to print an entire gun and that will be when gun control becomes a totally different problem.

Will there be legislation designed to limit freedom of printing? The old NRA bumper sticker “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” will have to be changed to “If guns are outlawed, outlaws will have 3D printers.”

For more, read:

We Have A Lot Of Guns

Unsafe Gun Safes Can Be Opened By A Three-Year Old

Does Human Biology Favor Gun Control or Gun Ownership?

(For more details of HaveBlue’s gun, see ExtremeTech and Dvice.)

[UPDATE] The following comment is from Michael Guslick (aka Have Blue):

Correction Request: Mark’s article on my 3D printed AR-15 lower receiver incorrectly states that the AR-15 is the same as the M-16. The M-16 is indeed based on the AR-15, but the M-16 is a select-fire weapon and cannot be owned by civilians (save for a very few and very expensive old ones manufactured prior to the May 1986 ban). The AR-15 is a semiautomatic rifle (I commend you for not using the term “assault rifle”, as it is not one) and is legal for civilian ownership.


  1. Interesting thread and observations Harry P. Let’s not forget low cost 3D CAD / CAM routers, plasma cutters and milling machines as well. This is how the pros crank out “billet” AR-15 receivers right now. Just upload the specs and start the chips flying. Add a small PLC controlled oven to heat treat your hard parts and the whole thing can be done in your basement. So if firearms are prohibited they will merely become artificially over valued the same way ‘some’ drugs have. Once the risk / reward ratio reaches the point where it’s worth cranking out “bathtub gin” type AR’s, it won’t be much of a stretch to crank out full auto M-16 clones either. And the market that will actively seek this hardware won’t care about the severity of the punishment either way because a felony is a felony. Anywhere the government treads with jackboots, the free market (which includes the “black market”) will almost invariably find a way to turn a profit in spite of the gov-thugs and their laws; often at great human cost as the war on (some) drugs has proven.

  2. Harry, you make a very good point but may be a little outdated. At least one company in Germany (EOS) is currently marketing a direct metal laser sintering device that can print high resolution 3D aluminum parts. They also offer titanium and some grades of steel.

    It’s not “2 to 3 years”. It’s now.

    • Thanks for pointing out EOS to me, I am checking it out right now.
      But someone like you or I being able to realistically buy one of those 3d printers that could make a metal lower receiver or the metal kneecap replacement probably is 2-3 years out.


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