With the recent school shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook there is a renewed call for stricter gun control with the US government set to tighten ownership guidelines. However, 3D printing may enable people to sidestep the law by creating their own gun parts, and possibly complete guns in the future.
The first guns that used 3D printed parts were fired during 2012 and with gun part 3D designs readily available on the internet the technology is expected to improve. In fact, the MakerBot Thingyverse has removed all firearms related designs and will not allow any to be submitted in the future.
Defense Distributed then stepped in to provide the files required 3D printable gun parts and leads development in this area. They are gun rights advocates who see 3D printing technology as a way of avoiding the government regulated gun industry. They have launched DEFCAD as an alternative to the Thingverse so that firearms related 3D files can available to anyone who wants them.
3D printers are even seen as a useful technology by the US military, who have started to equip their mobile labs with 3D printer technologies. For the military there would be a cost and time advantage to be able to produce 3D printed replacement gun parts and even complete guns near the battlefield, rather than having them made in a US factory and shipped to the war zone.
Current 3D printing technology does not allow for a complete gun to be produced, due to the massive explosive forces in a gun’s chamber, but other less stressed gun parts are suitable for 3D printing. One of the gun parts that can be 3D printed is an automatic rifle magazine, which can contain more rounds than is allowed by current legislation. This is one of the ways that 3D printing can be used to sidestep current gun restrictions.
Most 3D printers, at least those commonly available, are limited to producing plastic parts so a homebrew 3D printed gun that is capable of firing a round is a way off yet. Even though guns made from composite materials are currently available it will be some time before suitable materials are developed for 3D printers.