Homemade Guns: Printed and Improvised

As our government debates gun control I thought I’d consider some of the curious questions that arise. One of the most pressing issues is the possibility of 3D printed guns. Which is to say, the issue of 3D printed guns because they already exist. Cody R. Wilson and his compatriots have designed such a gun and actually had a printer recalled by the company because it was being used to manufacture guns without a license to do so. Naturally the political debate, which is now lagging four to five years behind technology, has not responded to this development. Cody’s actions however bring out some of the more interesting aspects of the discussion. His reasons are not entirely clear. There’s a strong element of “because I can,” and he is remarkably unfazed by the argument “but people will die.”

As a liberal I find the argument for strong gun control very compelling. I think of it as a statistical argument because regardless of “what ifs” and bizarre scenarios that one might imagine, there is strong statistical evidence showing that less guns in the population will mean less people dying violently. Britain has a lot less violent crime. I believe that guns make a violent act fueled by anger much easier and more dangerous than they would be with a knife, and most statistics that I see suggest that most violent acts are fueled by anger.

A printed gun

However Wilson’s argument is neither the standard Second Amendment argument, in its increasingly bizarre interpretation, nor the “bad men with guns need to be stopped by good men with guns” crap. He, as a self-proclaimed crypto-anarchist, is suggesting that everyone should have the ability to have guns as a basic freedom, regardless of government and that it is the nature of technology that it should be impossible to control who has guns. He’s somewhere are the same logic as the pirate bay: you can’t control who has this (gun, information, movie, etc) thus we should make sure that everyone has it. As the governments of the world haven’t figured out that modern copyright law is hopelessly out of date and mass downloading is impossible to control, its unlike they will notice the fact that guns can also be downloaded.

Note, as far as I understand it, which is far less than I can throw it, the only part of the gun that constitutes a “gun” in a legal sense is the “lower” or piece that houses the trigger and bolt. This is the piece that they are constructing out of plastic with their printers.

3D Printed Lower

But people have been making guns out of bits and pieces of stuff for years. As Wilson points out, you can carve a lower out of wood. Apparently people sometimes get together and make them with machine tools. There are tutorials online, just like there are tutorials for making pressure cooker bombs like we saw at the Boston Marathon. If that seems like a harsh comparison, lets remember that the gun Wilson is printing is the same kind that was used at Sandy Hook.

But it remains that improvised guns are far from unusual. I saw several in the Kenyan museum not too long ago, which were used in the Kenyan revolution. Without any modern gun making facilities, the Kenyans made what they could with what they had.

Kenyan Guns

Prisoners in jails have made some very impressive guns out of scrap for escape attempts. Such guns lacked even modern ammunition, inaccessible to prisoners, so they usually fired metal scraps with homemade gun powder. Perhaps the most terrifying was a four shot revolver.

Four Shot Pistol

But the double barreled shot shotgun used to escape a prison in Celle, Germany was also extremely impressive.


So what therefore is the weapon to be controlled? If anyone can make a functioning gun either with a 3D printer and a design or scraps and determination, what can gun laws do? Should we control the design for guns? It’s true that information related to making nuclear weapons is kept very secret. Perhaps gun designs are similarly controllable. But what about freedom of speech? And hiding information about nuclear weapons is fundamentally futile when a Boy Scout can refine uranium a bit in his backyard. Perhaps the most important fact is that the information is there and that the act is possible. Mankind went for thousands of years without gunpowder, which one can make in a day from raw materials (at least in Blood Meridian). How do we work against the weaponization of America (and in other countries)?


Printed Guns:



Prison Weapons:




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