Are 3D Guns a Credible Threat? (Learn More, Multi-Video)

In 2013, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson uploaded designs for a 3-D-printed gun online, and was told by the Dept of State (DOS) that he was in violation of a law prohibiting the export of guns without a license. After a lengthy legal battle, the DOS settled a lawsuit giving Wilson permission to publish plans to print guns, which he said he will begin doing on Aug. 1.
In 2013, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson uploaded designs for a 3-D-printed gun online, and was told by the Dept of State (DOS) that he was in violation of a law prohibiting the export of guns without a license. The lengthy legal battle, continues on. It’s too early to tell how the legal battles will play out, but are 3D guns a novelty or an actual threat?

By Jay Janner, Austin American-State, TNS

There seems to be some confusion surrounding the issue of plastic 3D-printable guns.

As of this writing in early August, a federal judge in the Western District of Washington state has issued a temporary restraining order against Defense Distributed, the group responsible for posting internet files that explain how to make the guns.

Who or what is DD?

According to its website, DD is a “non-profit, private defense firm principally engaged in the research, design, development, and manufacture of products and services for the benefit of the American rifleman.”

Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson
In 2013, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson became the first person to fire a bullet successfully from a home-printed 3D gun.

Cody Wilson is the director of DD and has been involved in a legal fight with the feds since 2013 trying to post his designs online.

Before the government halted the publication of the blueprints the plans had been downloaded more than 100,000 times.

The problem with printable guns is that they have no serial number (known as ghost guns), thus, the government has no way of tracking them or registering them.

What’s more, people aren’t required to undergo background checks.

And because the guns are plastic they can pass easily by metal detectors. Some can even be disassembled which makes them potentially likely to be undetected in X-ray machines.

Given that the TSA in 2016 missed 95 percent of prohibited items passing through security, plastic guns may be a valid concern.

(In 2013, a gun rights enthusiast posted designs online for a 3D-printed, functional handgun. In June, the State Department reversed a past decision and allowed it to be posted online by Texas-based group. Attorneys general from eight states and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit in a last-ditch effort. Courtesy of PBS NewsHour and YouTube. Posted on Jul 31, 2018.) 

Is the process simple?

How easy is it to produce one of these plastic guns? Not very.

The process requires a 3D printer ($1000-$2000), raw plastic, numerous steps, and a variety of software and technical knowledge.

The process of printing the gun can take up to 35 hours.

The Liberator, a plastic pistol designed by DD, comes closest to a complete printable firearm, but still requires some metal—a nail for a firing pin.

(3D Printing’s First Killer App. Courtesy of Defense Distributed and YouTube. Posted on May 5, 2013.)

And a six-ounce piece of steel must be included so that metal detectors are able to detect the weapon (which keeps them from violating the U.S.Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988).

The UFA makes it a federal offense to “manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, posses, transfer or receive” a firearm capable of defeating airport metal detection.

The ATF has an online resource regarding 3D printed guns and gun parts.


While there are some 3D printers out there costing less than $200, one that can produce a working firearm that won’t shatter when fired can cost thousands of dollars.

USA Today in an August 1st story noted that printers that produce guns can cost from $5000-$6000.

Despite the cost, the guns usually only last a few rounds before falling apart. And they’re not accurate as well.

The printable guns are big and clunky, which makes them difficult to conceal, and most only fire a single shot.

(August 1st was supposed to be the day when ready-made blueprints for 3D printed guns would be released on the internet, and allow anyone to manufacture unlicensed, and untraceable, deadly weapons in their living rooms. Courtesy of VICE and YouTube. Posted on Aug 10, 2018.)

In 2013 an Australian police department tested a printed gun and it exploded as soon as the trigger was pulled. Plastic, not durable, not accurate, and a safety hazard, all make this gun hardly very appealing.

If your intention is to sneak past a metal detector, remember these printable pistols require a nail for a firing pin.

The ammunition for the weapon, the case, bullet, and primer are also all metal. Even a shot shell case, made completely of plastic needs a primer made of metal to ignite it.

And if you’re a criminal looking to obtain a gun, 3D printing is not the way to go. It’s much easier and cheaper to steal a gun or buy one on the street.

Novelty or actual threat

Ghost Gunner 2: Why buy it when you can build it yourself? (Courtesy of Defense Distributed)

People knowledgeable about guns view the 3D weapons as more of a novelty than a threat.

They cite the fact that while traditional firearms can fire thousands of rounds in their lifetime, the 3D printed guns are notorious for lasting only a few rounds before falling apart.

The guns are inaccurate and lack a magazine allowing for multiple rounds to be carried.

Instead, they usually hold only a round or two and must be manually reloaded after firing. The ATF posted a video of a test they conducted on the Liberator.

It shows the gun disintegrating into pieces after a single round was fired. A video of the first test firing of the Liberator can be viewed here.

(Defense Distributed has made good on their promise to produce and fire the world’s first fully 3D-printed gun. Anthony looks at the impact this might have on our lives. Courtesy of Seeker and YouTube. Posted on May 7, 2013.)

Legal challenges

The legal battles surrounding the printed guns primarily involve the plans on the internet.

Constitutional questions regarding First and Second Amendment rights are the issues in dispute.

Cody Wilson believes the First Amendment gives him the right to disseminate the code to make a gun with a 3D printer.

His legal argument contends that distribution of the information differs from actually producing an all-plastic firearm. He is simply providing information.

(The founder of Defense Distributed, a company that distributes designs for untraceable 3D guns, is selling blueprints through his website after a federal judge blocked him from posting the instructions for free. Founder Cody Wilson joins “CBS This Morning” to respond. He is now charging customers who can name their own price for those designs. In 2013, Wilson became the first person to fire a bullet successfully from a home-printed 3D gun. Courtesy of CBS This Morning and YouTube. Posted on Aug 29, 2018.)

It’s too early to tell how the legal battles will play out.

However, my sense is that the free speech issue will be a winning argument, and this so called “printable gun” will remain more of a novelty than anything else.

Stay Safe, Brothers and Sisters!

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