3D printed guns and the issue they pose for gun control

Guns and gun control have been highly contested topics since the United States was formed. This, by extension, leads to the concept of homemade guns. To my surprise, homemade firearms aren’t restricted by Federal jurisdiction or state regulations. While some states have put restrictions on firearm frames (the main part of the gun which allows for firing), many states still have nothing in place to hinder the production of homemade guns or the purchasing of firearm frames.


But why is this a problem? Well, in states or countries with more restrictive gun laws, this allows for citizens to circumvent those restrictions without the governments’ knowledge or ability to intervene. This arises in two main ways, magazines and bodies. In California, for example, in 2016 a ban on magazines (the part of a gun that holds bullets) that hold more than 10 rounds was put in place due to statistics showing that in mass shootings with over 20 deaths, 100% of them used high capacity magazines.


A 3D printed magazine; Image via Forbes

The 3D printed magazine pictured above is what allows average citizens to circumvent the aforementioned restrictions placed upon them, allowing them to essentially break the law without truly breaking the law. After all, restrictions on 3D printed magazines haven’t really been put in place, and the restrictions put against commercially available magazines could be argued against 3D printed ones, further delaying and potentially spreading the amount of magazines in circulation.


FGC-9 firearm; Image via Wikipedia

Secondly, there are the firearm bodies. 3D printed bodies are fairly easy to make given enough time and dedication. For example, the FGC-9 is a semi-automatic rifle that was designed primarily by gun forum user Jstark1809 (commonly known as the patron saint of 3D printed guns), “Ivan The Troll”, and “3socksandcrocs” to be made with pieces commercially accessible in countries with even the most restrictive gun laws in the EU. It is estimated that it would take about 1.5-2 weeks to construct this gun. This FGC-9 is the most known printable gun with blueprints widely distributed online. It is currently used by the anti-junta militias in Myanmar to great efficiency. Additionally, due to the nature of the FGC-9’s creation and general existence, it is intentionally easily constructible by those who aren’t very well-versed in gun design.


The components of a FGC-9 firearm; Image by JStark1809

Additionally, many Glocks have been printed. While most commonly used as a government-issued service pistol, it is also commonly recommended as a civilian-use self-defense tool. The Glock is the second most commonly printed gun due to the incredibly simple design that it totes, as well as the fact that Glock frames are the type most often sold except for maybe for the AR-15.


A 3D printed Glock; Image via 19fortyfive.com

So, once more I ask the original question, why is this a problem? The answer is multi-pronged:

  • Firstly, even when the price of a 3D printer and all the needed parts are factored in (~$400), the price is still less than the average glock (~$500.)

  • Secondly, homemade and, by extension, 3D printed guns are what are known as “Ghost Guns” or guns that are untraceable due to their lack of serial numbers or commercial fingerprint.

  • Thirdly, there are no background checks involved with their construction, and they are for now questionably legal, which means that in theory even children can get ahold of these.


So all in all, how much of a problem are 3D printed guns? Well, “Ghost Guns” have and likely will always exist; and due to the nature of their creation, 3D printed guns tend to break more easily and regularly than standard arms. Also, for the most part, the community around 3D printed guns is, to quote Vice, “a nerdy group of designers and tinkerers who insist they are strictly abiding by gun laws and enjoying a “very loud” hobby”.


To summarize, “Ghost Guns” are easier, cheaper, and more reliable to make than ever before with very few restrictions at all put upon them. What can be done to stymie the production of these guns? First, background checks and ID for firearm frames could help steer away those with ill intentions. Secondly, laws restricting or prohibiting the creation of firearms without a license could also help stymie the production of 3D printed arms, but other than that it is difficult to say. Blueprints for the bodies are hard to police because they tend to be distributed on blockchain using services, making tracking difficult and dissemination easy. However, there are policymakers currently attempting to take on the circumventions taking place, like Senators Markey and Menendez of Massachusetts, Senator Cynthia Coyne of Rhode Island, as well as Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida.


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