3D printed AR-15 parts challenge firearm regulation

The 3D printing wars are hotting up, as Thingiverse users upload a design for an AR-15 magazine (holds five rounds, easy to expand to as many rounds as the material will hold without snapping) and an AR-15 lower receiver, a component whose ownership is proscribed or regulated in most of the USA.
This is a near fully printable 5.56mm X 45mm or .233 REM AR-15 magazine. It is current only a 5 round magazine. I left my printed spring design out on purpose for saftey reasons. However, with a little printing experimention and some range time it can be made easily.

The Lower Receiver is the frame that holds together all the other pieces of the firearm. In the States, all the other pieces can be purchased without a permit - over the counter or through the post. The Lower Receiver is the only part which requires a background check or any other kind of paperwork before purchase. Typically this part is made of aluminium. A rifle with a Lower Receiver made of plastic can be perfectly functional.

AR-15 Rifle Magazine by crank (Thanks, Bre!)


  1.  “A rifle with a Lower Receiver made of plastic can be perfectly functional.”I call BS on this, who told you that?  It may work for a little while, maybe.

    1. I strongly suspect that it depends on the plastic. Some of the nicer fibre-reinforced structural polymers are very, very, tough customers and decently heat resistant(if lousy at heat dissipation). Unlikely to be 100% as good as metal; but likely to fall well within the realm of “functional”.

      Your not-so-carefully-tuned reprap’s ABS filament pile? Yeah, I’ll let somebody else test fire that one…

    2. Another option is to feed this into a laser sintering machine rather then a plastic based printer, as i suspect the model itself will not mind either way.

    3. The lower receiver isn’t stressed enough to warrant aluminum. The responsibility of the lower is to hold the magazine and the fire controls. There are a few companies manufacturing polymer receivers in the US already. The rifle in my safe has a polymer lower receiver. Whether the 3D printer can handle polymer isn’t something I have knowledge of, but metal receivers are going away.

      1. I was going to say this…polymer is quite ideal in this particular application.  Sure, a lower from a 3D printer might not look as nice, but it’ll do the job.

    4. If we are talking about the lower receiver then why not out plastics or fiber reinforced polymers? The trigger group is really the only moving parts within the lower receiver, and since they are separate parts then technically the don’t count as the same piece. As for heat, the lower receiver is quite cool during operation. The barrel and other parts of course collect and dissipate more heat. So the use of heat resistant materials could be quite feasible. 

    5. Depends on the plastic.  Cavalry arms sells a polymer lower.  The AR15 design puts all the high stressed componants in the upper, and the pressure is contained within the bolt and barrel, the boltface locks into the barrel directly.  So yeah, it’s not BS.  But ABS? dunno if I’d go that far. 

    6. Actually, there are some very strong plastics out there.  I’ve used 3D plastic parts in several hi-stress manufacturing environments to test ideas.  None of them have been damaged or broken.  “Plastic” is a very generic description of a synthetic material.  It isn’t like the plastic on the Nerf guns you can pick up at Target.  

    7. Ever heard of Cavalry Arms?  They were making a plastic lower before they got fuxxored by the ATF.  Bushmaster also makes an AR with a polymer lower.

    8. Several manufacturers make plastic receivers, including Bushmaster and former Cavalry Arms.  I call BS on your calling BS.

    1. This is not entirely true.  The .22LR version uses a polymer…  But the .223REM/5.56MM versions are aluminum.  That being said, I do not see any reason that the lower couldn’t be polymer…  They don’t endure much stress under normal range fire.

    2. i d look into prison firearm designs anyway as their “designs” are way more efficient if u wanted to print something effective with as little polymers as possible.

  2. Conveniently, while 3D printing is the new hotness(and usually a lot cheaper, especially for plastics), a 3D model can also be fed into the nicer CNC machine tools, which are quite capable of turning metal parts…

    Still no dice on any steps involving things like heat treatment, chroming, and similar; but for more money, and less of the zOMG-futuristic-printer! factor, you could get a more or less 100% 3D model-to-actual-working-device thing going(which, given the role of CAD in modern design, may well be pretty close to what actually happens for some products…)

  3. More proof that, much like circumventing DRM, it is not the idea, tools, or the act, but the intent. Laws against this kind of thing get made when people do stupid things with the freedoms they (previously) had. Print a gun or any other weapon, no problem. Cause harm with it, there’s a problem.(The only exception I can think of to the “freedom to make” is when it comes to stuff that could quite literally blow up in your face, taking the block/neighborhood/city with it.)

  4. If you’re only going to regulate one component of a rifle, wouldn’t the obvious part be the chamber, or whatever bit that’s a part of? I imagine it would be pretty difficult to make a 3D-printed one of those that would actually work.

    1. “Obvious” and “gun laws” are rarely found in the same sentence together.  In all actuality forming the chamber of a firearm is one of the easiest things a gunsmith can do.  Essentially you’re just drilling a pilot hole and then reaming the barrel with a pre-made reamer.

      Attempting to print one as anything but a mockup is a great way to end up in the emergency room.

    2. You’d think we could just short-cut the process entirely and regulate the boo-lits (you know, the parts that do the actual damage). And good luck 3d printing gunpowder!

    3. Actually, the upper receiver would actually be even easier to print. The bolt mechanism might be trickier, but the rifled barrel is really the only part that might be somewhat challenging with this technology – for the moment.
      For the AR platform and other semi-auto combat-style rifles (AK, Sig 556, FN-SCAR, etc.), the part that’s regulated is the lower receiver. It’s the one that’s serialized, while upper receivers (which can be easily detached and replaced) are not.

    4. In most cases, the regulated part of the firearm is the receiver (which houses the chamber, the trigger assembly, and the magazine well for guns with detachable magazines).  The tricky bit with the AR-15 platform is that the receiver is actually two pieces (the upper and lower).  The upper houses the chamber and is attached to the barrel, while the lower has the rest of the mechanical bits.  One of the advantages of the AR platform is that a gun owner can easily swap out the upper and attached barrel to change the gun’s barrel length, type of ammo used, etc without needing a gunsmith, but there is little reason to swap out one lower for another.  I believe the decision was made to designate the lower as the firearm in large part because of this.  The other reason is that the major differences between an AR-15 (semi-automatic) and an M-16 (fully automatic) is in the lower (different trigger group, some differences in the lower housing itself).

      The AR-15 is kind of the Lego system of firearms, but just about every variation centers around basically the same lower receiver.  The same can not be held true of the upper.

    5. In many countries, the barrels are regulated.  In others, it’s the receiver that the barrel attaches to.  The AR is close to unique in that the lower receiver is the regulated component.

  5. I would never fire a gun that used a 3D printed plastic receiver.  It’s just dangerous.  That said, it won’t be long before 3D printers can make more precise components out of safer materials.  It’s worth addressing this before the first kid prints a couple copies of “Glock.” 

    1. Glocks are not made of plastic. Typical myth. You can make AR lowers out of high grade plastic but not the uppers and guess which part if regulated? Yep, the upper. Without the upper, an AR is not a firearm.

      Most kids are not trained to use a CNC machine last I checked, so the chances of them manufacturing reliable, functional AR uppers is pretty darn small.

      1. Mr. Dreyer, as regards the current legal status of various AR components in the United States, is wildly incorrect.

        The lower receiver is the serialized part of ARs.  It is the controlled part that is tracked through commerce as “the firearm.”

      2. Yes, neither of the Glocks I have shot were made of plastic, I am well aware.  My point is that 3D printers might not always be limited to plastics. 

        The problem with small chances is that once the technology is widely available, even a small chance approaches certainty on a long enough timeline.

      3. This is incorrect.  The lower receiver is the regulated part of an AR15.  The lower receiver all by itself, without any additional parts is considered the firearm.  It’s the part that gets the serial number and manufacturer info engraved on it. 

      4. WRT whether or not kids are trained to use a CNC machine: in 7th & 8th grade in the school district I live in, students are required to take a “technical education” course which teaches them how to use both a CNC lathe and CNC mill (as well as several other excellent machines having to do with pneumatics/hydraulics and various others). They use these to create components, first out of polymer, and then out of metal. That seems to be a trend, often replacing what used to be called “shop” class (woodworking, etc.).

      5. I believe you’re mistaken. An AR-15 upper receiver is not “regulated”, anyone can buy one through the mail. It’s the lower receiver that has the serial number and requires transfer through a Federal Firearms License holder.

      6. Incorrect on the legal aspect.  The lower is the regulated part on the AR pattern rifles.  Uppers you can buy by mailorder. One example can be found at  http://www.cheaperthandirt.com/2DPBAOCE-1.html

        Again, it’s not illegal to make a firearm that you can own, for your own use.  Plenty of examples of that on the net. 

      7. The registered component of an AR pattern rifle, in America, is the lower receiver half.  By law the “lower” *is* the firearm whether or not it has any other bits attached to it.  Every other single piece can be shipped through the mail directly to your house.

        “Kids” aren’t building uppers in their garage on a CNC because you can order them directly. People are completing 80% finished forged lowers in their garages on knee mills though.

      8. John Dryer… you are wrong.  AR lower Receivers are the regulated part.  They have the serial number not the upper.  

      9. This has to be the most ignorant comment in this article.

        What part of the firearm has the serialized identifier? The lower. Which part cannot be transferred via post or mail? The lower.

        A lower, stripped or otherwise, is the regulated firearm component of the AR platform. Not the upper, not the BCG, and not the barrel. The lower receiver.

        Not even going to broach your ignorance with regards to CNC machines.

      10. Sorry but you are incorrect the lower receiver is regulated not the upper.  That said it is completely legal to make your own in most states (MA being the one exception I can think of) .  Google 80 percent receivers.  They only require you to machine out some of the metal and drill some holes.  It is much like the FAA rules that let you build your own plane from a kit and register it except that you do not have to register a firearm you make unless the state you live in requires you to register other firearms.

      11. Huh… No, the upper is not regulated. The lower is. Trust me – I know. I own a few AR lowers and uppers. No paperwork necessary to buy an upper. You can buy it for cash from a buddy or a guy you met on craigslist – all perfectly legal, even in California. For a lower, however, you need to fill out the 4473 ATF form for buying or selling it.

      12. with some google time and dedication its pretty easy to make a cnc machine nowadays. Hard metals might be a step to high, but my homebuild cnc router does MDF well and could prob. do Aluminium just as wel if i was to upgrade the routermotor. (slow tho).

        That being said, if you want to build homebrew weapons you probably better off with a design with more loose tolerances, A STEN or M31A “grease gun” spring to mind. So maybe the ammo/powder/chemical components distribution channels should be the place to look for regulation?

      13. I can’t get over the things people are making up in this comments section.  Guess what? You are completely wrong.  Lowers are the legal entity.  You can buy complete uppers with barrels and all anywhere on the internet or a local store with no problem at all.  Purchasing a blank lower is the same as purchasing a full rifle.

      14. if u can build a bomb based on internet reading u can easily manufacture a firearm. sorry, but its deffo possible. 

      15. Sorry, but this is inaccurate. The lower receiver of an AR-15 is considered to be the “firearm”, *not* the upper, so it’s the part that must go through an FFL during interstate transfer.

        Neither the upper nor the lower are regulated on a national level, but some states do regulate the lower. For some really fun mental gymnastics, start looking into Maryland’s laws – particularly the rules around stripped lowers, complete ARs, and HBARs.

      16. John, the Lower is regulated, not the upper.  The Lower is the serial numbered part which you have to fill out a 4473 and pass a NICS check to buy.  BTW, there are Plum Crazy Firearms, which are completely polymer lowers.  I personally own a bushmaster AR pistol, which has a polymer lower.  And there is a thriving DIY gunsmithing community, which built lowers out of machined out blocks of HDPE.

        As well, the frame, or serialized, regulated part of a glock, is made of polymer.  There are metal springs and such mounted on the polymer, but the frame itself is polymer.  the barrel, slide, and recoil spring are metal.

        I own a glock 22, glock 27, previously owned a 17, 30, and 19.  I own multiple AR’s, rifles, pistols, and shotguns.  Feel free to ask for correct information.


      17. John, the upper is NOT the firearm.   The lower is the registered and serialed part of the weapon and must be transfered by an ffl.  

      18. You may have been wrong about lower vs upper.
        But at least you didn’t fail to read the existing comments before you posted, like just about everyone else who’s responded to you.
        Well done. +1.

        1. I blame Disqus for that. When there’s a “Reply” button under a comment that opens a text box right there in context, it sure seems like that’s where a reply will appear. So, all the folks (like me ;) who “failed to read the existing comments” get a pass because there’s a reasonable expectation that, if somebody else had responded already, it’d be right there in front of them.

          1. Yeah, fair enough I guess – I find it strange that BB hasn’t provided even the option of tree-style comments, but I suspect the reason is that their chosen commenting system makes that harder than it should be to implement.

            I think they’re still ironing out the kinks in it though, so who knows what the future will bring?

          2. It really should be a choice for the end user whether to have inline or nested comments, but Disqus doesn’t offer it.

      19. Um, nope, the lower receiver bears the serial number in the US and is the regulated part.  In Europe the barrel is the regulated part, along with the upper receiver in most cases, and so guns imported from Europe not specifically made for US markets will have a new separate serial number added by the importer that they must keep records of…the original serial numbers remain of course, but are not recorded because they are not on the correct parts.

      20. Sorry, the upper receivers of ARs are not regulated. The lower receiver is the numbered, regulated component.  It is typical to buy one lower, and several interchangeable upper assemblies.  Do a quick google rather than arguing the point, please.

        It is perfectly legal to make your own lower or firearm for personal use, and is done all the time.

        A very simple mill that runs off a PC will let anyone with a bit of computer knowledge convert the public domain schematics into a file and into a program.  So, yes, teenagers are quite capable of doing so.

    2. Lobster Says: It’s worth addressing this before the first kid prints a couple copies of “Glock.” 

      I disagree. Rushing to judgement about the risks any technology poses is how we quickly loose all kinds of legitimate rights. Let’s wait and see if there is a real risk to society before we shut down 3D printing, or force some kind of government oversight. As others have mentioned, making this part is already illegal. Why add more laws now?

      1. Hey now, I never said we need to pre-emptively regulate.  It’s just worth discussing before it comes down the line. 

  6. Eh… if you knew enough about firearms and engineering, you could design a fully-automatic rifle from scratch that would fire readily available ammunition. If you printed/machined a couple of prototypes for your own use, at your own risk, didn’t carry them around, and didn’t shoot anyone with them, I doubt anyone would care.

    Start selling them or giving them away, or publish the CAD files (enabling anyone to make, and therefore obtain with your aid)… BATF is going to care.

    My personal stance on making available any kind of ‘hardware’ or ‘software’ is something like karma: If you reasonably believe something you are putting out there is going to be used to harm others, don’t do it.

    1. Don’t take it to a public range or you could end up like David Olofson.  Probably worse since you deliberately defied the National Firearms Act.

    1. I wonder how 922r would be impacted by using printer media from foreign imported materials? The fabrication of a part was conducted in America, but it was manufactured from foreign media.

      Does 922r care where the raw materials come from, or is it just the final part?

      1. 922r does not take into account where the raw materials come from… its hard to prove where a block of steel or aluminium comes from.

  7. You and your commenter are wrong.  Anyone can manufacture their own firearm for their own use under federal law.  There is no background check, waiting period, serial number ATF letter or anything else required.  Some (very few, the AR-15 is the most popular gun in America) States ban AR-15’s, but those states have very restrictive gun laws in general.  The lower on the AR-15 has the serial number, it is the part that counts as a gun and requires a license to sell.  Check our AR-15.com for more info.

    1. “Some (very few, the AR-15 is the most popular gun in America) States ban AR-15’s…”

      Not exactly.  Some have tried, such as California, but they have found that they just can’t define “AR-15” in a way that completely defeats the gun-rights folks.  (I’m sure you know all this, but I’m posting for the average reader who won’t.)

      ARs, when banned, are usually defined by listing their features, things like a detachable magazine, a pistol grip separate from the buttstock, and a provision for a bayonet.  CA did approximately that and the market responded instantly with fixed magazine rifles (you have to break them open like a shotgun and load from the top) that included buttstock/pistol grip integration and deleted the bayonet lugs.

      Presto!  A CA-legal AR that looks almost exactly like the real thing comes into existence and throws anti-gun-rights folks in that state into fits of apoplexy.

      Thanks for posting that ar-15.com link.  Lots of good info there.

  8. So much misinformation in so little space and time.  I hardly know where to start.

    First, the legality.  In the United States, it’s perfectly legal to make a gun.  If you have the skills and equipment, grab yourself a block (more commonly, a plate) of steel and whittle away everything that doesn’t look like a gun.  Take the finished product out and shoot it.  Have fun.  It’s all perfectly legal.  You are not even required to stamp a serial number on the thing.  (Most hobby gun builder add serial numbers, though.  It just makes things easier when you get noticed by a cop who doesn’t realize that making your own firearms is a common, fun, completely legal hobby.) 

    Shotgun News regularly does features on homebuilt guns.  Example:  http://www.shotgunnews.com/2011/07/22/building-a-hybrid-yugoslav-m70b1-from-a-stub-with-screws/

    There are whole communities of gun-builders out there, whether you like old-style ( http://www.americanlongrifles.com/ ) or new ( http://www.thehomegunsmith.com/ ).  For more info, start at that last link and start clicking outward.

    For a basic run-down of U.S. laws on the subject, here’s a good place to start:  http://www.tucsonguns.com/Building_a_Gun.php

    Second, transfer.  Once you’ve made a gun in your garage, however, it’s yours and nobody else’s.  The law that allows the hobby to exist specifically says that if you sell off such guns, then you’re a manufacturer and you need a license (and a bunch of other stuff).  Thus, if CNC machines become cheap or if it’s possible to print a usable AR lower in plastic, I would imagine lots of people would do exactly that.  However, they are forever stuck with that gun and may not transfer it.  See the tusconguns link, above.

    Third, materials.  Aluminum is normal for AR lowers but lots of polymer lowers have been manufactured.  The Carbon 15 is the model most people think about when they want an “all plastic” (not exactly correct, but that’s the way people think of them) AR.  See http://www.bushmaster.com/catalog_carbon15_index.asp .  I have no idea if 3D printers can work with the required materials, but I hope so.

    Fourth, definitions.  The “What is a firearm” question can be pretty complex.  The BATFE gets to make the decisions, here, and they say the lower of the AR is *the* firearm.  All else is just (domestically) unregulated parts.  The poster above who opines that the part of the firearm that should be *the* firearm is the chamber is completely wrong.  Chambers are parts of barrels and barrels wear out and must be replaceable.

    Generally, the part of a gun that is legally the firearm is called the receiver.  The receiver is at the middle of everything and all the vital parts are attached to it.  (It “receives” them, get it?)  For an AR, that’s the lower.  For some other guns that look like ARs, it’s the upper.  For most simple hunting rifles, it’s a completely innocuous-looking steel tube just a few inches long.  In each individual case, it’s the BATFE that makes the decision about what is and isn’t the receiver and it’s just that one part that is, technically, a firearm.  On any commercially produced gun, it’s the part that must have a serial number.

    Just a few random thoughts to help out since there’s likely to be a few gaps in the knowledge of the average reader.  Hope this helps.

  9. i love how emotional people get in the comments on Thingiverse…    it is near hysteria….   “oh, we love making things,  just NOT the thing YOU made…”

    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

  10. I think it might be worth mentioning that the “current” price of the 3D printer is much higher than the price of a low-end mill with which a person can make the same receiver out of aluminum. It’s just that the 3d printer takes less skill.

  11. I’d also point out that it’s not illegal to make an ar15 lower (or any firearm you can own) yourself. You have to go through a lot of paperwork to *manufacture* them, but manufacturing is a business. If you make them for yourself, you’re clear. At least wrt federal law, and assuming you don’t violate some other fed or local ordinance. For example, making a full auto version. 

  12. “Plum Crazy” makes a poly lower.  It’s quality is a somewhat hotly debated subject.  

    NY bans the “Colt AR-15”.  But that’s very specific.  So sell a semi-auto Bushmaster XM-15, that’s fine.

    1. To Brian S… there is no general patent/copyright on the AR-15 design.  There are a number of high performance etc. parts made recently that are under patent/copyright but the receiver itself is pushing 60 years old now.

    2. Further to other answers which say there’s no copyright/patent current on the AR15,
      it’s only legal to make a gun for your own personal use if you’re not a licensed gun manufacturer.

      If you are a licensed gun manufacturer, then yep, you’ll probably need to also get licenses off the design companies.

      If you’re an unlicensed gun manufacturer/salesman then you’re already breaking more serious laws, and likely won’t care.

      1. Dude, if you don’t know anything about the laws, you may as well not comment.  I’ve been involved in this aspect of the hobby for seventeen years, five months, twenty-one and a half hours, approximately — give or take fifteen minutes.  There are no licensing issues for standard AR-15 parts.  Any patents (design or utility) have long expired, copyright doesn’t apply to functional designs, trade secret doesn’t apply if the information is readily discoverable (such as by using measuring tools), and as long as you don’t use anyone’s trademarks you’re golden.

        Others have already commented on the legal aspects of making any gun at home.

        1. Hrm – at first I had no idea what you were talking about, but reading my post, I can see two ways that what I wrote could be read. I guess I should be more careful.

          “Further to other answers which say there’s no copyright/patent current on the AR15,”
          [“Further to” here means “what I am about to say builds upon and agrees with”. I can see that it could be read as “in response to”. I should have been clearer, though, that I was accepting that it was not licensed, and was taking the conversation on from that point, and exploring the licensing issues that are bound to crop up with newer weaponry (and other craftable things).]

          “it’s only legal to make a gun for your own personal use if you’re not a licensed gun manufacturer.”
          [Urgh. I’m sorry, this was unforgivably poorly phrased: you could read this as “it’s only legal if you’re unlicensed”. Would have been better phrased as: “if you’re not a licensed gun manufacturer, then it’s only legal to make a gun for your own personal use.”]

          If you are a licensed gun manufacturer, then yep, you’ll probably need to also get licenses off the design companies.
          [I was not responding here to the AR-15 issue, but to the possibility of 3D printing requiring license for newer patented designs, since to me this is the really interesting part of the discussion, and is going to become the stuff of nightmares soon enough if they start applying video and audio piracy law to craftables. I should have been clearer, once again.]

          [“If you’re an unlicensed gun manufacturer/salesman then you’re already breaking more serious laws, and likely won’t care.”]
          This was the only sentence I wrote that I think was at least somewhat clear. Sorry again.

    3. The patents on the original Colt AR-15 designs have long expired.  Colt still holds a trademark on the name “AR-15.”

  13. Just the job for building an AR-15 airsoft gun, though, and perfectly safe for that level of stress.

    *Obviously* this is intended for use as an airsoft gun component.

  14. You do realize you’ll be the laughing stock of the thug world when your printed M16 falls apart/melts in your hands and you get shot by someone with a real gun that cost him at least half as much as yours.

  15. In before “no way! it’s the lower receiver that’s regulated!” comments.

    Oops. About 100 comments too late, I guess.

  16. First it’s crazies 3D printing out guns, what’s next?  Automobiles?  Drugs?  Marital aids?  Where will this madness end?

  17. Issue is – it’s a fantastic emergent tech that will revolutionise the world.  This kind of activity, though predictable, gives regulators every reason (on top of DRM and copyright) to hinder its development.

  18. Sigh – one would think people would take 10 min to do the minimal amount of research. Apologies for repeats but –

    First off the magazine. Non-issue – other than I am pretty sure it will be a short lived POS. Every state, even the restrictive CA, allows 5rnd magazines. If you want a magazine, go buy a Magpul Pmag and rest easy you bought the best.

    Now – the idea of printing a rifle lower/reciever. First off, while I don’t know what 3D printed material consists off, how tough it is, etc, but I highly doubt it would make a good lower that would last very long. There are a few composite lowers out there, but IIRC they are injection molded from glass filled nylon.

    For years they have had 3D CAD drawing that anyone with access with a C&C machine and a billet of aluminum could make a lower/receiver. They even sell raw forged and 80%(IIRC) completed lowers that DIYers and Makers can finish with a drill press.

    And all of this is legal. As long as you make a fire arm that does not fall under the NFA (Such as full auto, short barrel, etc), and is legal within your state (such as the retarded magazine release in CA) – it is perfectly fine. Now this firearm is yours and can’t be sold. If you wanted to sell them you can get a manufactures license. Expensive – but once you do you can make just about anything.

  19. I love reading the discussions that emerge as Thingiverse gets new tests. As with previous discussions, I think that the truth about this new thing is that it doesn’t change much. As mentioned by many others, this file was already available online, and motivated users could already make one (though they might have rather used a CNC mill for a better part). And most importantly, the law probably still restricts everything in the same way.

    More importantly though, this doesn’t change the agency of users in any measurable way: It’s still easier in the US to get a gun by traditional means than to print one. I would imagine that the same goes in all countries, even heavily regulated ones like the UK.

    The real “danger” of thingiverse isn’t going to come by aping things that are made using traditional mass production in a globalized market. We can already get these things for very low prices, and with easy access (especially in the west). What’s really going to cause disruption is when 3d printing, or other small-scale digital fabrication technologies, allow the creation of functional objects that cannot be made by the globalized marketplace.

    Once that happens (assuming it can, and assuming that people want the things) then digifab will tip into much more widespread use. More widespread use will accelerate the pace of innovation within the community, leading to more non-mass-manufacturable products. If this keeps up (again, a big assumption) these products could cannibalize the mass-production market, just as mass-production overwhelmed cottage industry in the early 1900s.

    What do these new products look like? What new functions will they give? That’s just it. We don’t know. We’ve never been able to make them before. Digifab is so young, guessing it’s future would be like trying to predict the iPad by looking at Eli Terry’s pillar and scroll clock.

    1. More of a minor, very tangential plot point.  The “HEAP gun”.  I think it was mentioned in only two or three scenes.

  20. “What’s next? Marital aids?”

    If you’re using a 3-D printer to make a marital aid, you’re probably still a virgin.

    Or live in a state so uptight that the sale of marital aids is still regulated.

    I’m not sure which is worse.

    1. Or perhaps you can 3D-print one for half the price of the retail marital aides, have you seen how much those things cost??

    1. It’s the Internet. It’s what happens when you pull a factual assertion about a controversial subject straight out of your ass, and you turn out to be wrong.

      1. It’s the Internet. It’s what happens when you pull a factual assertion about a controversial subject straight out of your ass, and you turn out to be wrong

        Hey! I’ll have you know that the internet was built on stuff that comes out of people’s asses.

  21. Heh; I was wondering when something like that would get published.

    People have been making AR pattern rifles for a long time out of a number of different materials. As the majority above have noted: it’s perfectly legal to make a bolt action or semi-automatic firearm as long as you don’t sell it or make a bunch of them for the purposes of selling them; then the ATF will come down on you for being an unlicensed manufacturer, which generally results in large fines and time at Club Fed. The same deal goes for full-auto firearms: You can’t make them unless you go back in time to before 1986, which was the last time (if memory serves correctly) Joe Citizen could make or buy a full auto firearm as long as the state they lived in didn’t have anything more restrictive.

  22. Just to address a point that’s been touched on, mostly inaccurately (including by me), I thought I’d add one more thing.  Remember, IANAL, etc.

    I said in a previous post that home-built guns are something you’re stuck with and can’t transfer.  In practical terms, that’s true.  Legally, not exactly.  If you *intend* to build a gun for personal use and later decide to sell it, that’s technically legal.  Most people in the hobby, though, won’t do it.  If the ATF wants to prosecute you for unlicensed manufacture and sales, they can.  It will then be up to you to prove that your state of mind at the time of making was “I’m making this just for myself” and that you later changed your mind.  How on earth can you do that?

    I’ve seen advice published by people hip-deep in the hobby that if you home-build very few firearms and then keep them for at least a year before selling, then the mere passage of that time is adequate proof that you didn’t intend the work to be an ongoing profit center.  I’m not sure that approach is sufficient insurance and, besides, it opens a big can of worms when it comes to record keeping.

    Personally, the only way I’d transfer a home-build is in my will.  Doing otherwise leaves you open to the mood of the local BATFE office as to whether you’ll get prosecuted and that mood varies widely with the location and the person in charge.  Here in Texas, where I live, selling and buying a gun a couple of times a month is not unusual.  Heck, if I wanted to trim my current collection, I wouldn’t think twice about renting a table at a gun show and doing 6 or 10 private sales in one weekend.  That would be a reasonable, hobby-type level of trading to my mind and most of my peers.  In fact, I’ve both bought and sold guns at garage sales.

    Yet, many years ago, the head of the BATFE in Boston was famously quoted as saying he would prosecute as an unlicensed dealer anyone who sold more than one gun a year.

    Bottom line – Selling homemade guns is technically legal but draws attention from guys with badges and guns and bad attitudes.  Beating the charges is tough because you have to prove your state of mind at the time of the build.  Then you have to prove you changed your mind.  All that is something that most smart homebuilders simply won’t touch.

  23. Well it’s about time. You can usually count on any new technology to make an outing as a tool of destruction or a tool for sex, at least at first. I’d find it hard to believe no one was printing or CNCing guns already.

    After that, however, the missed points abound. Sure, most printers print in plastic, and most gun parts prefer to be made out of metal. But some printers do work in metal and some plastics might be up to the job. The real question is what, if anything, is different about a world where there are boxes wholly indifferent to whether a spatula or a pistol come out when you open them?

    I tend to suspect not. There are whole neighborhoods in the Phillipines that produce perfectly servicable SMGs, assault rifles, and pistols with hand tools, so while it certainly is easier to print a gun than file a gun, the capacity to produce firearms in your garage is fundamentally not new. One can imagine that a Hollywood plot where the underground is full of untraceable guns sold in the gingy alley behind Ernie’s Replicators, but the fact is that said alley is already full of guns bought and paid for from factories of the usual type, and as much fun as I have with printers, (and as loathe as I am to needle my fellow makers) I tend to suspect that printers will fill more of the role of the often-dusty table saw than a replacement for the global manufactured goods supply chain. The status quo would seem to predominate.

    1. “Is this some kind of gun-nut thing?”

      Yes.  Yes it is.  The error he made was so egregious, so obvious, and so dangerous that the folks who know anything about it will react instantly to correct the situation.

      That particular error is roughly analogous to a life-or-death safety problem on the firing line.  You stop everything, including reading further down the page, and correct it RIGHT NOW.


      At a particular state championship pistol match some 30 years ago, the dog belonging to the range owner got loose and freaked out for whatever reason.  He ran straight downrange, into the line of fire of twenty competitors.  I was just a kid compared to the average competitor but I didn’t hesitate.  In the middle of a firing string, with a season’s worth of competition at risk for every person on the line, I yelled “Cease fire!” as loud as I could.  The guy calling the match jumped three feet out of his chair but, without hesitation or any understanding of the problem, he instantly echoed the correct emergency commands of “Cease fire!  Cease fire and make the line safe.”

      Then he looked at me for an explanation which I didn’t have to provide.  The owner started to yell cease fire, pointed at his dog running in front of all those pistols, and waited for the line officer to declare the line safe. Once that was done, he received clearance to retrieve the animal.  (Fun to watch, btw, as the field of fire was about 200×100 meters and the poor guy had to run all over it to get his dog back while everyone in the sport stood at the line and watched.  Even the people who had had their concentration destroyed by the unscheduled cease fire eventually started laughing.)

      Over the rest of the day several of the oldtimers stopped by to thank me for not hesitating and doing the right thing.  None of them wanted to be the one to shoot that dog and it was only by dismissing all other concerns and immediately taking corrective action was that sad outcome avoided.

      It’s the same way with the error about lowers vs. uppers.  That’s such a huge mistake that anyone who enjoys shooting and doesn’t want to see fellow hobbyists in jail will instantly dismiss with all other concerns and yell “Cease fire!” or, the equivalent in this case, post a correction.

  24. I apologize if this has already been posted, but I’ll state the obvious: If you go to Amazon you can find dozens of books with plans on building various expedient firearms — everything from single shot pipe-gun shotguns to modern submachine guns. You can also find many places to download PDFs of gun plans all over the Net, as well as blueprints of existing time-tested guns.

    It’s well established that plans for weapons — be they guns or be they nuclear bombs — are legal. The issue comes when you build it or start selling the parts. So if Shapeways decides to print them it might be an issue, but distributing the CAD/CAM files is perfectly legal.

    I’ve often wondered whether it would be legal to sell a complete gun kit made out of hard jeweller’s wax. Of course it would not be possible to shoot a bullet out of a wax gun, but you could convert that wax gun into metal (although home 3D printing negates that thought experiment I suppose)…

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