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The ATF Not Concerned About 3D Printed Guns... Yet 344

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the killing-is-my-business dept.
derekmead writes "3D-printing gun parts has taken off, thanks to the likes of Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed. While the technology adds a rather interesting wrinkle to the gun control debate, the ATF currently is pretty hands-off, ... 'We are aware of all the 3D printing of firearms and have been tracking it for quite a while,' Earl Woodham, spokesperson for the ATF field office in Charlotte, said. 'Our firearms technology people have looked at it, and we have not yet seen a consistently reliable firearm made with 3D printing.' A reporter called the ATF's Washington headquarters to get a better idea of what it took to make a gun 'consistently reliable,' and program manager George Semonick said the guns should be 'made to last years or generations.' In other words, because 3D-printed guns aren't yet as durable as their metal counterparts, the ATF doesn't yet consider them as much of a concern."
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The ATF Not Concerned About 3D Printed Guns... Yet

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  • by icebike (68054) on Monday March 25, 2013 @06:56PM (#43277295)

    Where ATF is missing the mark is that these printed guns are already good enough for the planned murder or bank hold up, hijacking, etc, where getting off one or two rounds is all the perp is interested in. In other words, one could make the argument that untraceable guns are more likely to be used in a crime than a traceable one.

    Or one could make the argument that I watch too much TV.

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday March 25, 2013 @06:58PM (#43277321) Homepage Journal

      Sure but until local idiots start downloading guns with one click and running them off on a standard peripheral, they won't worry. People with the ability to 3D print a gun can already make all sorts of weapons.

      • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday March 25, 2013 @07:37PM (#43277579)

        Sure but until local idiots start downloading guns with one click and running them off on a standard peripheral, they won't worry. People with the ability to 3D print a gun can already make all sorts of weapons.

        I believe that is the response the ATF should have made. The problem isn't longevity of the weapon - that is a weird-ass red-herring for them to throw out there. The problem is ease of access. Until 3D printers are as cheap and plentiful as ink-jet printers, they aren't a major risk for criminal usage.

        However, when that day comes, the ATF is screwed. They will have no more luck at controlling distribution of printable weapons than the MAFIAA has had at controlling distribution of movies and music.

        • by koons5159 (626312)
          Yes, but it will always be easier for someone looking to do evil things to buy a gun on the street.
          • by bsane (148894) on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:01PM (#43277745)

            Yes, but with ubiquitous 3d printers, there will be more for sale.

            I'm not taking a stance, just saying, easy, non-traceable production will make them much more available. If I had to guess, it'll be a bigger problem in countries other than the US, since guns are already fairly easy to come by.

            • by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:25PM (#43277843)

              Yes, but with ubiquitous 3d printers, there will be more for sale.

              I'm not taking a stance, just saying, easy, non-traceable production will make them much more available. If I had to guess, it'll be a bigger problem in countries other than the US, since guns are already fairly easy to come by.

              I don't see how. I remember when I was younger there was a local bar that you could pick up a loaded stolen gun for $20. I think you could pay a little more for one with the serial numbers already filed off too. I'm sure places like that are still around, but the prices may have gone up since then. Still, how much does a 3D printer cost? It's going to be a long time before it's cheaper to print a gun than to steal or buy a stolen one.

              I would also guess that printing guns is going to leave a trail on the hard drive of a computer. It'd probably be a lot more risky to get caught with a log of all of the guns you sold than to get caught with a couple of stolen ones. Criminals may not be academically smart , but I can assure you they know how to skirt the law better than most upstanding citizens would ever guess.

            • Nonsense.

              First off, there are plenty of guns out there. Both registered and not. Do you think it's hard to smuggle a 'virgin' gun into the US (along with tons of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, etc) ? Second, there are tens of thousands of mills and lathes that are tucked into basements and small shops everywhere. Not only can they make a lower receiver, but they can also make the barrel - something that 3D printers aren't going to be able to do for quite some time. And then there is the old drem

        • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:44PM (#43277929)

          "However, when that day comes, the ATF is screwed. They will have no more luck at controlling distribution of printable weapons than the MAFIAA has had at controlling distribution of movies and music."

          Spoken like someone who doesn't know squat about either firearms or the law.

          First off, manufacturing your own gun is, and always has been, legal. Anybody can do it. I read a post recently by someone who made one himself. He wrote that it was ridiculously easy. (He made a rifle, complete with rifled barrel, from scratch.)

          ATF isn't concerned because it never has been concerned about people who make their own guns for their own use. As long as it's within certain limits, they simply don't care. (You can't make a gun that would otherwise be illegal. You can't legally build yourself a shotgun that is shorter than legal length, for example.)

          Even though the lower receiver in this type of firearm is considered by ATF to be "the gun", by far more difficult are the upper receiver, bolt & bold carrier, and barrel (which contains the chamber). Nobody is going to be making those out of plastic any time soon. So there really isn't any reason for the ATF to be concerned, AT ALL. Even if it were possible to make the whole gun out of 3D-printed plastic, it's perfectly legal.

        • by pspahn (1175617)

          The longevity of the weapon is absolutely an important factor.

          If these printed weapons only last a few shots, then you don't have much to worry about when they start floating around neighborhoods.

          Once they become durable, you're looking at weapons that can be used repeatedly, and then sold or otherwise change ownership, and they remain just as useful as when they were new. What if a crime lord decides to invest in printed gun equipment? He can print all he wants, pass them to his underlings, who then do w

      • by ATMAvatar (648864)
        Besides, it's only truly a danger if they can start 3D printing video games.
      • Sure but until local idiots start downloading guns with one click and running them off on a standard peripheral, they won't worry. People with the ability to 3D print a gun can already make all sorts of weapons.

        This is true. But you're making a rational argument. Since when has public policy had anything to do with rational thought? The first time one of these printed guns so much as explodes during use and injures its creator the governments going to come down on this entire premise like a ton of bricks. Can you imagine the headlines the first time ones used in a crime? And both cases are inevitable. The same way of thinking that makes a distinction between Gun Violence and just plain violence, or Gun death, and

        • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

          One theory is that gun deaths are more dramatic. Very few other ways to die or become injured involve loud noises and flying blood and guts. Kids are more likely to drown in the neighbor's pool than get shot by the neighbor's gun but drowning is very often a silent death.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kenja (541830)
      And one could also make an argument that a 3D printer can not produce anything that I cant already make with tools ranging from a micro CNC to a nail file. There is nothing about 3D printing that makes it any different then any other form of fabrication. It's not even cheaper really.
      • by Obfuscant (592200) on Monday March 25, 2013 @07:19PM (#43277481)

        There is nothing about 3D printing that makes it any different then any other form of fabrication. It's not even cheaper really.

        3d printing turns making a gun into a script-kiddie kind of operation instead of requiring some technical skills.

        • When did CNC+downloadable AutoCAD files require technical skills?
          • by Kell Bengal (711123) on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:15PM (#43277807)
            Spoken like someone who has never had to actually prep G-code, fixture a part or debug mill routing. CNC machining is a technical discipline requiring real skill and experience. Experts are paid very good money for their time and talent.
            • by Zak3056 (69287)

              Spoken like someone who has never had to actually prep G-code, fixture a part or debug mill routing. CNC machining is a technical discipline requiring real skill and experience.\

              ...and once an expert builds out the program for the tool, any idiot can load it and run it.

            • You are aware that all of these 3d printers use G-Code, right?

            • by Mashiki (184564)

              Spoken like someone who has never had to actually prep G-code, fixture a part or debug mill routing. CNC machining is a technical discipline requiring real skill and experience. Experts are paid very good money for their time and talent.

              Uh...when a rater largish company where I was going to highschool dropped off an old CNC machine and said "have fun" back in the 90's we were able to figure it out on our own, including how to debug our own milling routes. If kids in highschool who are bored can do it, anyone with a bit of patience and the help of the internet can, especially when us teenagers at the time didn't have easy access to this wealth of knowledge called the internet.

              Trial and error is just as much a teaching tool as anything else

        • by AndrewX (680681)
          No, you can't just print out a working gun. Only certain parts are printable, and there's still a good amount of other parts made of metal needed (barrels, bolts, trigger groups, firing pins, gas blocks, etc) not to mention the assembly required, and the money for a 3D printer and spools of plastic, etc. It's a far cry from the 'script kiddie' operation you think it is.
          • A friend of mine saw a demonstration of a prototype 3D printer that works in stainless steel. Additive process.

            • Laser sintering, but it cannot produce hardened metal needed.

              On the other hand, I suppose sintered steel could be hardened. Hrm..

              Still is never going to be cheap due to the cost of the lasers, etc.

        • No not at all (Score:5, Informative)

          by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:07PM (#43277765)

          You still have to:

          1) Own a 3D printer of sufficient quality to make a workable part.

          2) Buy all the business parts of the gun. The barrel, bolt, bolt carrier, firing pin, buffer, gas tube, trigger and assembly, fire selector, hammer, etc, etc,.

          3) Assemble said gun from scratch.

          You CANNOT print a whole gun and will NEVER be able to unless we get metal 3D printers that can make high strength parts. An AR-15 barrel and chamber must survive peak forces of 63,000 PSI. 3D printers can't extrude materials that can take anything near that.

          All people are printing now is the lower receiver, and maybe some of the ergonomics stuff like grips and hand guards. This shit is not intensive, nor expensive, to make.

          The only notable thing about the lower for an AR-15 variant is that it is the serialized part and this legally the firearm. However that law could be changed, if needed, and then you'd be SOL.

          This is in no way, shape, or form a script kidde operation. It is just making AR-15 lowers, something people have done forever. The only reason some geeks are obsessed with it is because they don't understand materials science and think that this means you can print a whole gun.

          • I actually started out with that argument. But if you can sinter stainless steel, you can harden it just like you normally would (I think).

            I'm not saying it's practical, right now. But the word never is perhaps not a good choice.

        • "3d printing turns making a gun into a script-kiddie kind of operation instead of requiring some technical skills."

          Hahahaha! It does nothing of the sort.

          You aren't going to make the upper receiver, bolt & bolt carrier, and barrel out of 3D printed plastic. It just isn't practical with today's technology.

          Maybe in 5 or 10 years. Then maybe you might have reason for concern. (Not that I think it's really a concern anyway.)

          This whole debate reminds me of the "plastic gun" scare of the 70s and 80s. They were referring to Glocks. Of course, the anti-gunners somehow neglected to mention that even the smaller Glock

      • by gringer (252588) on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:08PM (#43277771)

        And one could also make an argument that a 3D printer can not produce anything that I cant already make with tools ranging from a micro CNC to a nail file.

        There are some glue-free structures involving enclosed internal parts (moving or non-moving) that can't be created on a milling machine (or similar equivalent machine such as what you have enumerated), but can be printed on a layered additive printer.

        It also has a "one-tool for everything" advantage, allowing you to rapidly prototype and evolve things in a fairly short space of time.

    • Cheap untraceable guns means little, if the stores are out of bullets.

      • by icebike (68054)

        because you can't save your brass, and make your own...

      • "Cheap untraceable guns means little, if the stores are out of bullets."

        Bullets can be -- and have been -- made out of cardboard tubes, with some powder, and a lead slug.

        Of course, you have to design the gun a little differently to use that, but it works.

        Just because a certain design has turned out to be efficient for mass manufacture, don't start thinking that it's the only way it can be done.

    • by raymorris (2726007) on Monday March 25, 2013 @07:28PM (#43277541)
      It's easier to make a gun from only plumbing parts than to fit the metal parts to a 3D printed receiver. The plastic grip does nothing but make it look nicer. Heck, a fireworks mortar loaded with a rock could kill you and those are made of PAPER, so you really don't even need plumbing pieces - you can make a gun from a newspaper. (Indeed, a paper mortar better matches the military definition of "gun" than does a semi-automatic.) 3D printing changes nothing - weapons have been easy to make since bronze was invented

      To look at it another way, CNC had the exact same effect - someone with a $5,000 tool could make a more professional looking weapon. Before that, metal lathes made weapon fabrication easier. Same with a dozen other tools. Why did we not hear this fear mongering about home CNC machines, or lathes, or forges, for that matter? Because until the least few decades most people had the basic tools of self defense as a matter of course. Yeah, anyone could make a gun in 1950, or 1900, but why bother? Just buy one at Sears. What's changed is the sissification of the culture. The technology makes no difference. The difference is that today we have a bunch of wussy girlie men who've never so much as held a pistol, and are afraid of what they are unfamiliar with.
      • by icebike (68054)

        Why did we not hear this fear mongering about home CNC machines,

        Because they require skill to operate.

        With more and more parts of the gun (and just about anything else) being available to download over the net, and less and less need for metal portions at all, anyone with the price of a printer and off the shelf software will be able to print and fit together just about anything. The price of 3D printers is slipping under the $1000 dollar mark, $2000 for a good enough quality one for the task at hand.

        CNC machines aren't getting dramatically cheaper, or less complicated

        • "Because they require skill to operate."

          Sorry, but no.

          As someone pointed out above: once someone who does have skill creates the CNC code, any fairly unskilled person can load an ingot, fill the lube reservoir, and hit the "start" button.

    • No, you cannot 3D print a gun. you can 3D print a receiver, but the ol "lock,breach and barrel" you can't.

      so anything that comes out of a 3D printer won't kill someone. if you printed a gun-shaped thing you might bluff your way through a robbery, but then a good toy gun or bb gun such as they sold in my childhood would be just as good.

      wake up when someone can print a barrel that can take 15,000 to 50,000 psi of pressure and thousands of degrees of heat for some tens of milliseconds. or can print a hamme

  • not surprising (Score:5, Informative)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Monday March 25, 2013 @06:58PM (#43277319)

    There is no actual 3d-printing of guns, yet. What people are doing is 3d-printing one part of the gun (the receiver) whose serial number is tracked for gun-registration purposes. For the purposes of those laws, the receiver "is" the gun: ordering a receiver is controlled, but ordering any combination of parts without a receiver is not. But that is pretty obviously a legal fiction (perhaps an unwise legal fiction): it is, by far, not the hardest part of the gun to manufacture. In fact, 3d printing hasn't really changed the game here, because CNC machines have been able to fabricate that part for years already. Sure, now it can also be done on a 3d printer, which just adds one more way to manufacture it.

    From a technological perspective, what would be impressive is if a complete gun could be 3d printed, including the critical parts involved in actual firing. Then you could legitimately say you have "3d printed a gun".

    • Re:not surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nidi62 (1525137) on Monday March 25, 2013 @07:06PM (#43277383)

      CNC machines have been able to fabricate that part for years already. Sure, now it can also be done on a 3d printer, which just adds one more way to manufacture it.

      Dont forget you can buy receivers that are 80-90% milled already too. Literally all you have to do is drill a few holes and smooth out some metal, and the blanks usually come with instructions on where to drill too. Much easier, cheaper, and reliable than 3D printing one out of plastic

      • by i.r.id10t (595143)

        The law is 80% complete - any more, and it requires a FFL to transfer across state lines.

        Then again, there are folks that have made AK receivers out of shovels.... Couple of computer cases would work too.

        Heck, I can see a new line of slimline cases - "When the speed is no longer enough and you can't find a mobo that fits in our weird case design, simply punch a few holes and cut out a few notches and you'll have an AK receiver!"

    • by dbc (135354)

      There *is* scintered metal 3D printing. http://production3dprinters.com/slm/direct-metal-slm [production3dprinters.com] It is sort of expensive, but I've seen the output. You could print most of the gun, but the surface finish is kind of grainy at present (at least in what I've seen). You would need to chase the barrel with a reamer to smooth the bore and then rifle it, and polish any sliding parts. Also, you'd have to look at material strength of the 3D printed metal which is "hard as steel", but that covers a lot of ground. Yo

      • "Also, you'd have to look at material strength of the 3D printed metal which is 'hard as steel', but that covers a lot of ground."

        Yes, it does. Hardness is only one property of a material. When it comes to gun barrels, bursting pressure, i.e. tensile strength, is probably a lot more important than hardness, at least in the short term. (A barrel that wasn't hard would not retain its rifling very long, for example.) And the two properties are not very related. A material can have high tensile strength but not be very hard, and vice versa.

        That's one reason ceramic guns are still only experimental. Ceramic can be plenty hard enough. Ha

  • In other words, because 3D-printed guns aren't yet as durable as their metal counterparts

    Just wait until they find out that the only reason most hobbyists are using plastic 3D printers is because that's the material their prototypes use -- something non-conductive. When they find out that it's just as easy to stick an arc-welder to the end of the arm and crap out metal instead of plastic, they're going to come into all the maker labs that have sprung up with guns blazing, mowing people down while screaming "For the children!". That really ought to be their slogan: We killed you because it was i

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      Just wait until they find out that the only reason most hobbyists are using plastic 3D printers is because that's the material their prototypes use -- something non-conductive. When they find out that it's just as easy to stick an arc-welder to the end of the arm and crap out metal instead of plastic, they're going to come into all the maker labs that have sprung up with guns blazing, mowing people down while screaming "For the children!"

      Yep. That is why people making and selling these [ar15jigs.com] get arrested so often.

  • Is it a big deal? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AndrewX (680681) on Monday March 25, 2013 @07:10PM (#43277419)
    It's already legal to make a firearm for your own personal use, as long as you're not selling them. Also, it's not like you can print barrels and trigger groups and stuff. There's a lot more involved than just the parts that a 3D printer can print.
    • It's already legal to make a firearm for your own personal use, as long as you're not selling them.

      It's also legal to make a muzzleloading CANNON for your own personal use.

      Read an article years ago about someone who wanted to do this. Apparently, he checked with the local ATF guys, and they said it wasn't a problem, as long as he didn't try to sell the thing....

      • "It's also legal to make a muzzleloading CANNON for your own personal use."

        I know someone who did. Solid brass, about 4' long, with a 2" bore. (He owned a fabricating plant and ended up with some big chunks of brass for some reason.) The walls were about 2" or so thick at the rear and about 1.5" at the front.

        He never shot anything out of it. He'd just fill it up with oxy & acetylene from his welding torch and set it off as a noisemaker.

        And man... it made a hell of a noise.

  • In the line of fire.

    In that movie some uses a wooden gun. Now that is some think that the myth busters need to test will a wooden gun work?

  • 18th century history shows us when a government wants to control the people, they take away their rights. Among these is the right to self-defense -- the right to weapons. 20th century history shows us they wanted to take away alcohol because people cannot be trusted to behave well with it. "For our own good" it was taken away from us. But people made their own, illegally. They countered the government in rebellion. In secret they made clubs. They organized. They defended themselves with guns... "as

    • "assault weapons" even

      Well, no. By the definition of "assault weapon", there were none available in the 20's.

      Of course, Thompson submachineguns and Browning Automatic Rifles (the fully-automatic-only ones the US Army used in WW2 as squad-level support weapons) and such were perfectly legal then, and were used frequently by assorted gangsters.

      Note, for the record, that neither a Thompson SMG nor a BAR would be banned as an "assault weapon" under either the old or new versions of the "assault weapon ban"

      • by erroneus (253617)

        They were extremely powerful weapons designed exclusively to be anti-personnel. It's what I would define as assault weapons.

        I have no problem with the definition. A good weapon is a good tool. But it is what it is. To be clear, though, when government wants to hold exclusive rights to weapons or merely "better" weapons, it is the people they aim to limit and control. They want our freedom and they will enough of us to get it. "For our own good" of course.

      • by Nidi62 (1525137)

        Of course, Thompson submachineguns and Browning Automatic Rifles (the fully-automatic-only ones the US Army used in WW2 as squad-level support weapons) and such were perfectly legal then, and were used frequently by assorted gangsters.

        Note, for the record, that neither a Thompson SMG nor a BAR would be banned as an "assault weapon" under either the old or new versions of the "assault weapon ban" (though the 1832 Colt Revolving Shotgun would under the new version).

        To be pedantic, the Thompson was actually designed to be a literal "assault weapon". When it was designed in the latter stages of WWI it was billed as a "trench broom"; whoever was carrying it was supposed to, during an assault on a trench, sweep the gun down the trench when they got to it, clearing it out.

        • "To be pedantic, the Thompson was actually designed to be a literal 'assault weapon'."

          You're not being pedantic. Even today, a Thompson would qualify as an assault weapon. A lot more than some others that are currently classed as assault weapons.

          Look at some of the features: large removable magazine, pistol-style grip, fully automatic fire.

          Yep. Even by modern "standards" (if you can call them that), a Thompson is an assault weapon.

    • Prohibition was not an example of government taking away alcohol. It was an example of people taking away alcohol from other people. It was a constitutional amendment, remember.

  • What about my 3d-printed tobacco though?
  • If your only interested in crime or going postal you really don't care about long term reliability so long as it can get you through the day. Long term reliability is only a law abiding citizen would care about. So the ATF should really be very concerned indeed.

    If it can get to the point that completely plastic Saturday night special can be made and dissolved with just a few common chemicals...

    Sounds to me like they don't care about crime... only weapons that can personally hurt them in their body armor.

    • by Krishnoid (984597) *

      Sounds to me like they don't care about crime

      'Saturday night special' is what came to mind for me too. Is it only law enforcement that concerns themselves with gun crime, while the ATF is tasked with issues regarding the guns themselves?

  • Wow, anthrax that is 20% pure and nuclear bombs which fizzle scare me and guns which work 80% of the time should be of some concern to them.

    Besides the metal 3D printer I've seen could spit out air-cooled, motor-driven chain guns! You could just buy or repurpose barrels as they aren't regulated at all. I bet guns made with that machine would be on their radar. Some one who could purchase a few of those, or even just one and some CNC machines could turn out many guns quickly.

    It would be cool if in a US milit

  • They've printed some of the parts of a gun.

        They still need barrels, and most importantly, firing mechanisms. The printed parts are currently still holding all of the 'metal bits' that make up the gun.

        Besides, the ATF really wouldn't be able to do much about it, unless they where being sold..

  • by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@NospAm.keirstead.org> on Monday March 25, 2013 @09:48PM (#43278239) Homepage

    Let's see, which is better for my use as a criminal

    - A gun that will "last for generations" and keep a permanent record of the ammo fired from it in the form of bullet striations

    - A gun that I can fire 30-60 times and then literally dispose of in a fire leaving zero provable trace for anyone to link me to it

    Why on earth would a criminal want a gun that would "last for generations" as opposed to one that can be used and then destroyed?

    • by Kreigaffe (765218)

      Bullet striations are about as reliable as a lie detector test.

      You may as well consult an astrologist.

  • The ATF is correct in their approach to this. There's a lot of pointless idiots running around in fear here over 3D printing. Or maybe they just want 3D printers banned because they don't have one... Just like those same idiots ran around over a decade ago saying color inkjet printers would lead to counterfeiting of currency. But that never really happened and by the time laser printers could do it, they started encoding tracking information in the printouts.

    Here's how guns are really made... On the floor o

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