Latest Technological Panic? Fake 3D Printed Guns

OMG 11

assault rifle

Politics of gun ownership aside, I thought it would be interesting to address a fascinating (and sometimes frightening) discussion about 3D printing.

3D printers are some of the coolest technology I've seen in a long time. They essentially "print" objects using plastic and allow you to quickly and easily make toys, tools, and spare parts. With a little skill, you could feasibly print almost anything. To be clear, these parts aren't amazingly durable, but they're great for building little projects at home. We have a 3D printer at our house and my son enjoys watching gadgets appear on the build plate.

The problem arises when designers attempt to build "dangerous" stuff. One group called Defense Distributed is trying to build a completely 3D-printed gun. The group hasn't gone very far with their project, but recent videos suggest that we're not very far off from a completely 3D-printed gun.

3D printing is expensive, hard, and fraught with problems. The materials aren't very strong, the process is very complex, and without the right hardware, you're probably not going to be able print much of anything except toys and smaller parts. But, with a little effort, the folks at Defense Distributed have managed to produce a few parts for the popular AR-15 rifle. Yes, that AR-15 rifle.

While I don't want to come down on either side of the gun debate here, I did want to clear up some misconceptions about 3D printers. In short, modern 3D printers that you and I can buy (and afford) cannot print guns. The Makerbot, for example, could be used to build models of parts for a weapon, but the technology is still so nascent that it's almost impossible to see where it will go in the future.

We're going to hear more and more about the dangers of 3D printed weapons. It's still far easier to go out and buy your own gun and many suggest that the political outcry is more about the gun companies protecting their designs and business than tinkerers mucking about with little plastic doodads. The debate should hit the airwaves soon and it's best to understand the limitations -- and dangers -- of this technology.

Tinkering with 3D printers and other gadgetry is fun, educational, and will only get cooler as the technology improves. However, like any technology, we are not facing a backlash motivated by the things we just don't know. Will we be able to print a gun at home someday? Sure. You can build a gun now with the right tools and you don't even need a printer. The real question, then, is when is it too easy to build a weapon? When it becomes a one-button process? When we can Google the plans for a rifle in the morning and build one by lunch?

3D printing is a wonderful new world. We all have to stay informed about the changes afoot and marvel at what a wild and unique tool our kids will control in the next few years.

Do you think this is potentially dangerous?

 

Image via Graf Spee/Flickr

electronics, gadgets

11 Comments

To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

bella... bellacazzate

Does this mean... could this mean... oh my god, I'm pretty much dying over here as I type this... could we be on our way to realizing my 7-year-old self's dream of a Food Faxer?!


It kind of sounds like it. 3D printers... perhaps soon a 3D meal? 

dirti... dirtiekittie

is it potentially dangerous? of course it is! who on earth is going to save us from all those *gasp* paper cuts!!


 

Doomy234 Doomy234

I dont see how in any way possible this would be dangerous. You said yourself that the parts arent very durable, and plastic alone doesnt make a gun. Guns contain a lot of small and important parts to make them work. To make those important parts from anything but metal would result in nonworking ineffective guns. Someday they might have the technology to print off fully functional guns, but I feel that day is still probably a ways off. So cool your britches.

nonmember avatar Joel

"But, with a little effort, the folks at Defense Distributed have managed to produce a few parts for the popular AR-51 rifle. Yes, that AR-51 rifle."
It's called an AR-15. There's no such thing as an AR-51. Stop being so ignorant and scared of a piece of metal.

sunmo... sunmoonandstar

Holy crap this is a thing? I want a 3D printer! I'd make all kinds of cool stuff.. I need to Google this!

Jeremy Edrozo

"AR-51 rifle. Yes, that AR-51 rifle." you just said so for yourself plastic isn't durable to make a real operating gun and it's called a "AR-15" not a "AR-51" there is no such thing get your facts straight

nonmember avatar Gun Smith

This article is ridiculous. A 3-D printer could make plastic stocks for guns and grips for pistols. Certain metal parts of a gun have to be of such strength that it makes gun making difficult for a machinist with a forge. For one thing the barrel need to be hammer forged around a mandrel to impregnate the rifling into it. Your article show say the 3D printer could made something that from outward appearance looked like a gun just as Dillinger carved a revolver from a bar of soap and colored it with shoe polish. A cnc machine capable of actually producing a gun out of steels capable of handling chamber pressures from firing a cartridge costs several million dollars.

John Woodward

"To make those important parts from anything but metal would result in nonworking ineffective guns. Someday they might have the technology to print off fully functional guns, but I feel that day is still probably a ways off. So cool your britches."

3D Printing is not just limited to printing in plastic.... Although significantly more expensive, I can print in titanium, aluminum, gold, or silver if I damn wanted. I just need the more expensive 3D printer.

I don't understand exactly how it works, but I take it has the metal in powder form- then it sinters the powder until it liquifies with a powerful laser. Then it dries quickly and it does this layer by layer.

The only parts which would need to be supplied would likely be springs.... but how expensive are springs ;)

This machine is not in the millions but certainly in the thousands

John Woodward

btw, I am senior industrial engineer and I have both studied 3d printing and done it myself on several occasions.

1-10 of 11 comments 12 Last
F