3D Printing and Guns

3D printing and guns, the truth of how modern printers can produce untraceable ghost guns. But they just don't, not yet anyway.

3D printing hasn’t quite had the impact on the world that we all hoped for, and it has been the same with the firearms industry. It just never really took off, because it’s always going to be simpler and safer to buy a mass produced gun off the shelf.

There was a time when the tabloids were awash with fears of millions of plastic ghost guns breezing past metal detectors. It just never happened.

Aside from an enthusiast community that can and does produce functional machine guns, Glock clones and AK-47s. It’s an easy Youtube rabbit hole to fall down if you’ve got time to burn…

3D printing remains an unusual ally for the gun community, though, as a veiled threat if nothing else. Right now people just don’t print guns because it’s easier and safer to buy a gun online from a major manufacturer. Forged receivers, or even properly injection molded plastics, are safer and better in every quantifiable way.

As a political argument, though, it’s a powerful one. Gun control would lead to those ghost guns and probably a thriving black market in plastic AR-15s. So it’s better to stick with the relatively regulated legal gun sales.

In essence, now the technology exists to make firearms from plastic filament and some basic parts bought online, it’s pretty much impossible to ban guns.

But aside from the politics, just how far have 3D printed firearms come?

A long way, is the simple answer.

3D printed guns. Get the inside guide on additive manufacturing and firearms.

Modern Uses for 3D Printing With Guns

1. Customization

3D printed guns doesn’t have to be such a binary thing. As long as you’re not printing receivers, then you’re largely just making accessories, which is fine and completely legal.

Everything from grips for your 1911 through to polymer handguards and braces are relatively easy to make and there is a community based around sharing ideas, designs and advice.

2. 3D Printed Guns

The range of 3D printed firearms is continually expanding, from simple single-shot handguns to more complex designs like semi-automatics.  

The technology is also used to manufacture various firearm components like magazines, grips, and stocks. 

At this moment in time, we think it’s best suited to accessories rather than lower receivers.  

It is constantly evolving tech, though, and committed fans will tell you that a 3D printed semi auto pistol and rifle are an option now. 

History of 3D Printed Guns

The concept gained significant attention in 2013 when Cody Wilson, a crypto-anarchist and the founder of Defense Distributed, successfully fired the first known 3D printed gun, named the “Liberator.”

This single-shot pistol, made almost entirely out of ABS plastic from a 3D printer, sparked a worldwide debate on gun control, digital rights, and the implications of open-source technology for the manufacture of firearms.

The Best 3D Printed Guns Ever

1. The Liberator

As the first fully functional 3D printed firearm, the Liberator set a precedent for what is possible with 3D printing technology. It could be manufactured by anyone with access to a 3D printer, making it a focal point in discussions about regulation and control of digital blueprints.

It was clunky, prone to blowing up in folks’ hands and was just a terrible gun. It was also a gamechanger.

2. The Ghost Gunner

Although not entirely 3D printed, the Ghost Gunner, also developed by Defense Distributed, is a CNC milling machine designed to manufacture firearm components from digital files. It highlighted the growing trend of DIY gunsmithing beyond just 3D printing, pushing the envelope on homemade firearms without serial numbers.

3. The FGC-9

The name stands for “Fuck Gun Control 9,” the FGC-9 represents the evolution of 3D printed firearms into more sophisticated and reliable weapons.

It is a semi-automatic, 9mm Pistol Caliber Carbine designed to showcasing the increasing capabilities and dangers of 3D printed gun technology.

Advances in 3D Printing Tech

1. Material Science

Early 3D printed guns were primarily made using plastic polymers, but advancements in 3D printing have expanded the range of materials.  

Now, more durable materials like metals can be used, significantly enhancing the durability and functionality of 3D printed firearms. 

Glock proved the potential of polymer pistols decades ago, and now 3D printers and ABS plastics can come close in terms of strength and durability. The slightest flaw in the process, though, can result in serious issues and total failure. 

And that’s what really has stopped mass adoption, fear of failure… It means a lot more in this case. Like your fingers.

That fear is largely misplaced these days. The plastics and improved production methods largely can handle the forces 9mm Luger will put through it. But for how long is still a valid and deeply worrying question.

2. Accuracy and Reliability

The accuracy and reliability of 3D printed firearms have increased. Now you can print a simple handgun, fit some off the shelf parts & accessories and you can be fairly sure it will fire.

However, they still generally lag behind traditionally manufactured firearms in terms of durability and reliability. 

You still can’t be 100% sure it’s going to fire, or 100% sure it isn’t going to explode in your hand at some random range day months down the line.  

Legal and Regulatory Points

1. Are 3D Printed Guns Legal?

In the United States, the legality of 3D printed guns is a complex issue governed by various federal and state laws.

At the federal level, it is legal to manufacture a gun for personal use, including those produced through 3D printing. Of course the same laws regarding felons owning firearms apply to the 3D printed guns too.

State laws vary widely, with some states imposing stricter regulations on the manufacture, possession, and distribution of 3D printed firearms. For example, California requires individuals who manufacture their own firearms to obtain a unique serial number from the California Department of Justice before making the gun.

Essentially if you’re in a pro gun State and you can buy guns, you should be fine. If you live in an anti gun State then you should 100 check and double check to be sure there is no legislation actively prohibiting 3D printing your own guns.

2. How Do We Regulate 3D Printed Guns?

Regulating 3D printed firearms is kind of a contradiction in terms. It will be impossible. The ability to manufacture firearms at home makes it difficult for authorities to enforce gun control laws effectively, raising concerns about unregistered guns and their potential use in criminal activities. 

One of the primary concerns with 3D printed guns is that they are often untraceable. They lack serial numbers and can be made without any formal manufacturing or purchasing record, making it difficult for law enforcement to trace them. 

The Future of 3D Printed Firearms 

As 3D printing technology continues to advance, it’s likely that we’ll see further improvements in the quality and reliability of 3D printed firearms. 

Given the challenges in regulating 3D printed guns, there may be increased efforts to regulate the technology itself.

Gun enthusiasts play a crucial role in the ongoing debate over 3D printed firearms. Their input is essential in shaping responsible practices and policies that balance the right to bear arms with public safety concerns. 

What About a Total Firearms Ban?

If a firearms ban does ever come to pass, then history has shown prohibition rarely works. 3D printing would be one obvious solution for either individuals or criminal enterprises that can manufacture and sell guns. If a blanket ban ever did come in, this would be 3D printing’s time to shine.

There is a sub-culture in Europe, where much stricter gun control is in force, and far more 3D printed firearms than anybody wants to admit to. If ever there was a blanket ban in the US, it’s hard to see America making a different choice.

Until then, it’s mostly just enthusiasts building less reliable guns for fun.


  • Nick Hall

    Nick is a lifelong gun enthusiast who has a simple mission. He wants to find the best deals for guns online and help you make the best choices with weapons your life may depend on one day.Nick won a minor league shooting competition at the age of 11 and it all went from there. Now he runs one of the biggest firearms websites on the net and his work has featured in Playboy US, Tatler Asia, Forbes and a whole host of national magazines and websites.

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