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Digging Into the Legal Status of 3-D Printed Guns 404

Posted by timothy
from the point-of-clarification-your-honor dept.
jfruh writes "Defense Distributed, a U.S. nonprofit that aims to make plans for guns available owners of 3-D printers, recently received a federal firearms license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. That license doesn't cover semi-automatic weapons and machine guns, though — and there are questions about whether the legislation that defines that license really apply to the act of giving someone 3-D printing patterns. Experts on all sides of the issue seemed to agree that no clarification of the law would happen until a high-profile crime involving a 3-D printed weapon was committed."
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Digging Into the Legal Status of 3-D Printed Guns

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  • It'd be a new type of weapon!
  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:28AM (#43234245)

    In what way is using a 3d printer different than me making a semi-AK out of a sheet metal and supplies from homedepot?

    I just don't see how it matter what tech made the gun parts. This seems more like attention seeking than a real concern. Home manufacture of semi-auto long rifles is federally speaking totally legal.

    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:30AM (#43234283)

      Reading the article I see the summary is once again totally useless.

      The issue is the manufacture of NFA weapons. 3d printing changes nothing about this, you cannot get or make NFA weapons without getting a stamp.

    • by rossdee (243626)

      Where do you get the barrel from?

      • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:34AM (#43234341)

        You can either use plumbing pipe or buy one online.
        Obviously the use of plumping pipe has accuracy repercussions but it can be a functional firearm if that is all you are going for.
        Barrels are not controlled by any law I know of.

        • by Casey Annis (2872247) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:46AM (#43234535)
          Actually 'Rifle Barrels' under a certain length are regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA) and enforced by the ATF. The NFA defines NFA "firearm" as: A shotgun or rifle having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length or any other weapon, other than a pistol or revolver, from which a shot is discharged by an explosive if such weapon is capable of being concealed on the person, or a machinegun, and includes a muffler or silencer for any firearm whether or not such a firearm is included in the foregoing definition.[3][4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Firearms_Act [wikipedia.org] -Casey
          • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:54AM (#43234639)

            Only when installed on the gun, or when you have the gun and the barrel and intent.

            Otherwise all pistol barels would be illegal as they could be used on rifles with a little machining.

          • by jafiwam (310805)

            Actually 'Rifle Barrels' under a certain length are regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA) and enforced by the ATF. The NFA defines NFA "firearm" as: A shotgun or rifle having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length or any other weapon, other than a pistol or revolver, from which a shot is discharged by an explosive if such weapon is capable of being concealed on the person, or a machinegun, and includes a muffler or silencer for any firearm whether or not such a firearm is included in the foregoing definition.[3][4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Firearms_Act [wikipedia.org] -Casey

            The legal status of the barrel is not codified until it's mounted on a firearm frame. While, it makes a bit more sense to think of the barrel is the firearm in some contexts, the legal definition of a firearm is the frame where the receiver and trigger assembly is.

            Put the same barrel on a stripped AR15 upper purchased as "other" or "pistol" on a 4473 and it's legally now part of a pistol and the length is not regulated. Only in that case, there being a second hand grip or stock on it is the part that is

        • by PortHaven (242123)

          Pipe would merely be a smooth bore, not a rifle. Technically for it to be a rifle, one would have to "rifle" the barrel. In otherwords, put spiraling grooves. Not actually to hard for a metal mill to do.

          However, one could make a simple smooth bore that fires a small shotgun slug in a sabot cartridge.

      • by czth (454384) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:44AM (#43234503) Homepage
        In the US, the lower receiver is considered the firearm for most legal purposes (it is the part that has the serial number and requires a background check if bought new or from a dealer), whereas barrels (part of the upper receiver, or just "upper"), at this time, do not, and can be, for example, bought through the mail or at a store with no infringing background or ID check. One can buy a barrel of barrels and then print lowers (and magazines if standard capacity magazines become banned) for them without getting any sort of permission from the state, and assemble a firearm. (For nitpickers, you do of course need more than just an upper and lower, but those other parts, such as the trigger assembly, can also be ordered without state interference.)
        • by jonwil (467024) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:47AM (#43234559)

          Fact is, the parts of a modern machine gun (including full-auto) that a skilled metalworker can't easily fabricate at home ARE legally available online with no restrictions or background check.

          And if you dont care about making a good gun, just something that can cause some damage, its even easier.

          • by PortHaven (242123)

            The truth is, a fully automatic rifle is far easier to manufacture than a semi-automatic.

            Think of it as a) unit with a free wheel mechanism vs b) unit with a timing system. The latter is more complicated. In truth, were one to have to make a simple working gun you would likely build either a single shot or a fully automatic design.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Only for Semis and ARs more specifically. For bolt guns the action is the gun. This is why you can have a mauser barrel shipped to your house, but not a barreled action.

          • by MBGMorden (803437)

            The receiver is still the gun on a bolt action. The action as a unit includes the bolt, bolt stop, triggerguard, magazine components, etc, and none of those are regulated. Just the actual receiver, which is exactly the same situation as a semi-auto. The only potential confusion is that AR's have two receivers - an upper and a lower receiver. Only one part in a gun ends up being regulated and for whatever reason they chose to serial # and restrict the lower. The upper receiver could have just as easily

    • by SirGarlon (845873) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:52AM (#43234603)

      I just don't see how it matter what tech made the gun parts

      Legally, it shouldn't matter. Practically, 3D printing has big implications for gun right/gun control.

      The whole idea of gun control is based on a premise that making guns is hard, requiring precision equipment and expertise. Through the end of the 20th century, it required either a specially-tooled factory, an expert craftsman, or both. (Some guns like the AK series are easier to make than others.) So the approach to gun control was to regulate the factories and the sale of what the factories produce.

      As you say, home manufacture is legal. It's not worth regulating: the expertise was rare, and the scale of production was low, and there were not any high-profile cases of homemade guns being used in heinous crimes.

      3D printing changes the world so that making a gun no longer requires specialized equipment nor specialized skills. So from the gun-control point of view, there is a real risk of guns being made in secret, in a decentralized way that is hard to detect, and being trafficked outside the existing system of licensed dealers and background checks. So the old framework of gun-control laws won't work. A would-be criminal who can easily make his own gun neatly evades the whole system.

      There big question is, what will replace the old legal model? There are many possible things the legislature could try, from giving up on gun control (unlikely) to trying to regulate the plans for gun parts (impractical, as we know from file sharing) to trying to clamp down on the printers themselves (scary).

      This is how the tech used to make the gun parts matters.

      • by Annirak (181684) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @11:32AM (#43235131)

        I just don't see how it matter what tech made the gun parts

        Legally, it shouldn't matter. Practically, 3D printing has big implications for gun right/gun control.

        I disagree. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I finally worked it out. 3D printing is not a revolution, it's just popular. You can put a CNC mill together for between 1.5x and 2x the price of a hobbyist 3D printer. It will work with metal and it will produce a smoother and more accurate final product. Why is 3D printing being singled out when CNC mills are a much more viable problem?

        3D printing changes the world so that making a gun no longer requires specialized equipment nor specialized skills. So from the gun-control point of view, there is a real risk of guns being made in secret, in a decentralized way that is hard to detect, and being trafficked outside the existing system of licensed dealers and background checks. So the old framework of gun-control laws won't work. A would-be criminal who can easily make his own gun neatly evades the whole system.

        This simply isn't true. Home CNC has been around for over a decade, in the $2000-$10,000 range. The more DIY you want to get, the lower it goes. The software is open source (LinuxCNC) and the electronics are simple.

        There big question is, what will replace the old legal model? There are many possible things the legislature could try, from giving up on gun control (unlikely) to trying to regulate the plans for gun parts (impractical, as we know from file sharing) to trying to clamp down on the printers themselves (scary).

        This is a good question. The problem, though, is that the ship has sailed on controlling the printers. There are so many plans available from so many people (see file sharing) and the printers themselves are cobbled together from hobby electronics and parts you can buy at Home Depot.

        This is how the tech used to make the gun parts matters.

        You may be right that someone in government will try and crack down on the printers themselves (Think of the children!), but it won't be long after that happens that someone with a CNC mill starts producing "controlled" items. The technology used is irrelevant.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GameboyRMH (1153867)

      Because this allows any Average Joe at home to print the action of a gun, the legally controlled part, all on his own with no skill or expensive machinery and then obtain the other parts as easily as buying some used videogames, and assemble a working weapon. Legally it's no different from making a gun in a home metal shop but practically, it greatly lowers the barriers of entry to making a home-built firearm that has never been on any records of any kind. It also allows high-capacity mags to be made at hom

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Or you could skip all those steps and go buy an AR at the local gun shop.

        A normal AR is not much of a long range tool, now your grandpa's mauser, that is like AT&T. Reach out and touch someone, at 1000M even. High frequency is something a level gun can do.

        Either way if we want to end gun deaths, banning pistols which are used in order of magnitudes more murders would be a far better approach.

        • Either way if we want to end gun deaths, banning pistols which are used in order of magnitudes more murders would be a far better approach.

          ... and still, effectively, a useless effort.

          If "we" really, truly wanted to "end gun deaths," the only way to make it happen would be to convince not only every individual, but every government, that we as a species have more important things to do than point weapons at one another.

          The day that the rest of the world agrees to put down their arms and live in peace and harmony, I too will lay mine to rest, but not a moment sooner.

      • by heypete (60671)

        *shrugs* 3D printers cost about $2,000 + filament.

        A drill press is about $100, the necessary drill bits are maybe $20-30, the drilling jig is about $125, and the 80% lower receiver and gun parts are about $750. Total cost: about $1,000, or about half the cost of a 3D printer. It's all metal, more durable, and completely unregulated.

        If you can follow basic directions (drill here, squirt oil here, etc.) then you can make a gun in a few hours even with minimal skills. Sure, it's not as easy as "download, click

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          Meaningless measures that sound good to the uniformed are the perfect thing for politicians. They can be seen looking like they are actually doing something when they aren't.

          The more interesting part of this is that the general public chooses to remain ignorant and frightened and don't see the situation for what it really is.

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      In what way is using a 3d printer different than me making a semi-AK out of a sheet metal and supplies from homedepot?

      You don't even need sheet metal, but you can can actually make an AK from parts purchased at home depot, such as a shovel [northeastshooters.com].

    • by vux984 (928602)

      I just don't see how it matter what tech made the gun parts.

      Kind of like how p2p file sharing is legally no different then copyright infringement committed with a printing press right?

      Except that its practical impact completely reshaped the landscape. 3D printing has the ability to be similarly game changing.

      I don't need to learn how to use complicated tools. I don't have to learn how to read complicated technical diagrams so that I no what to build.

      I go to my friends house, download a gun file, and press

    • by jxander (2605655)

      The difference is skills, mostly.

      A considerable amount of skill is required to turn a hunk of sheet metal and plumbing into a viable weapon (beyond a simple 1-shot zip gun.) If you want to fabricate something that's reliable, accurate and semi-automatic (fed via clip, mag or belt) it's going to take years of training, education and dedication. That's a steep barrier to entry, and prevents most armorers from doing something stupid with their guns. And even once a person knows exactly how to make an honest

  • by danb35 (112739) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:30AM (#43234279) Homepage

    Yes, if it's a manufacturer's FFL (TFA didn't specify, but it seems to be the case from context), it does cover production of semi-automatic firearms as well as pump-action, bolt-action, revolvers, and most others. Machine guns are separate, being (as TFA notes) covered by the National Firearms Act, not the Gun Control Act. For right now, federally speaking, domestically-made semi-automatic firearms don't have any special or unique status. If Senator Feinstein gets her way, of course, that will change, but it's the case currently.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      So are short barreled rifles, semi-auto guns that are considered not to have a sporting purpose and pretty much anything that does not cleanly fall into the categories of the GCA. Again this does not make them illegal to own just you need to pay the tax and do the paperwork.

      • I think the biggest problem with the inclusion of the words "without significant sporting purpose" is that who decides this and what are the thresholds for defining it. When we went hunting this year I took my Mosin Nagant M91/30, a true battle rifle albeit and old one. We also had an AR-10 and an AR-15 as well. Just because the AR platform guns look like they could be carried into a war zone does not make it any less valid for sporting use. Cosmetic changes to popular sporting caliber firearms do not ma
        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          The AR-15 being 5.56 is what makes it no good for hunting. Get a .308 or better. 5.56 is just too weak for good deer medicine.

          • by redmid17 (1217076)
            You can change the caliber on the AR-15 platform. That's one of the reasons it's so popular.
          • by MBGMorden (803437)

            a) Hunting deer is legal in quite a few states with 5.56. It certainly is here in SC. While I personally would go larger, I certainly wouldn't go "at least .308". .308 is overkill. My favorite deer rifle is a custom built bolt action in .257 Roberts which is MUCH less powerful than a .308 but works fine for deer.

            b) The AR-15 is most commonly chambered in 5.56 NATO, but thats not universally the case. Its available in a whole lot of other configurations. In particular the .300 AAC Blackout round (5.56 c

  • Time was (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Stargoat (658863)

    There was a time in this country when if a thing was not illegal, then it was legal. It's amazing, I know, but it is true.

    That is no longer the case. And we are all the worse for it.

    We can start by ceasing to make guns illegal, repealing the prohibition on marijuana, and removing of some of the more onerous parts of the various ADAs and EPAs.

    • by gQuigs (913879)

      > There was a time in this country when if a thing was not illegal, then it was legal.

      How is that not still the case? In fact, in the summary it basically said 3d printed guns will be legal until something bad happens with them.

  • This just in (Score:4, Informative)

    by redmid17 (1217076) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:41AM (#43234459)
    You don't need an FFL to create your own guns. You just need an FFL if you want to sell your guns commercially. Don't fuck this up congress. It's still illegal for prohibited persons from making a gun for their own use unless it's a black powder muzzle loader (aka non-modern firearm), though that might be restricted in some states AFAIK
  • by Foldarn (1152051) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:44AM (#43234511)
    It's already legally settled. You CAN manufacture your own firearms provided it does not run afoul of NFA. You do not need an FFL for this. You cannot transfer the firearm to another person, but it is 100% legal to make a firearm for yourself. Where does a semi-automatic weapon even come into play here? Subby is very uninformed on firearms laws. There are no questions as to whether an FFL allows someone to teach another how to manufacture firearms. All it does is allows you to buy and sell firearms as a business. Terrible article description.
  • by ClintJCL (264898) <clintjcl+slashdot@gmai l . c om> on Thursday March 21, 2013 @10:45AM (#43234529) Homepage Journal
    "no clarification of the law would happen until a high-profile crime involving a 3-D printed weapon was committed"

    Run through my personal translator:

    "instead of deciding how things should be, objectively, we want to wait until there are a few corpses we can parade around to make an emotional appeal to garner support to further reduce the rights of the law-abiding. Hopefully these corpses will be children, because they appeal to people's genetically programmed emotional reactions."

  • by nweaver (113078) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @11:01AM (#43234731) Homepage

    a: An FFL7 (which is what Defense Distributed got), once they complete some additional tax paperwork, allows them to make and sell semiautomatic rifles like any other manufacturer. And there are lots of small manufacturers these days. Heck, there is one in Napa, CA, if you want a fine, vintage 2013 AR-15 with "Made in Napa, CA" printed on the side.

    b: Plastic AR lower receivers are old news. There is a lot of panic buying of AR rifle components thanks to Dianne Feinstein's salesmanship, but the plastic lowers are readily available.

    You can even get a 5-pack for $400! [hendersondefense.com].

    Distributed Defense's sales, if any, are going to be those wanting to support their R&D, as there is no way they can compete with the existing aluminum lowers, let alone existing plastic ones, on price or quality for a given price.

    c: There are a lot of businesses which legally help you make your own gun. EG, you buy an 80% lower (a not completed lower receiver) which the ATF does not consider to be a gun [tacticalmachining.com] and then you finish it yourself by renting some milling machine time and doing it yourself. Until its finished by the purchaser, its a paperweight, not a gun.

    d: Some guy has even managed to do a home-made polymer lower using molding techniques [calguns.net].

  • ...aims to make plans for guns available owners of 3-D printers...

    Is that supposed to be in english?

  • Basic math (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustOK (667959) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @11:24AM (#43235023) Journal

    1st amendment + 2nd amendment = right to print arms

  • If the government says it's illegal to make this information available — which seems like a clear First Amendment violation — it won't matter, because nobody is going to be able to stop the plans from floating around for people to find. Governments are having trouble understanding that they can't control digital "things" as they could easily control physical goods.
    • by Skapare (16644)

      People have been getting the plans (designs), and the means, to build their own guns for as long as guns have been around. What's changed is the level of technology. And that's changed in everything.

  • The article states it doesn't cover non-sporting semi-automatic firearms, so it would allow, for example, 3D printing a semiautomatic AR-15 clones. Unless you meet the definitions of a Title 2 firearm (which would include, for example, an AR-15 with a barrel less than 16 inches (406.4 mm) long), sporting purposes really only affect imported shotguns and semiautomatic rifles as well as shotguns in general (they're an exception to the general rule of a bore over 0.50 inches (12.7 mm) being a Title 2 firearm

  • by PortHaven (242123) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @11:39AM (#43235221) Homepage

    Semi-automatic rifles are under CGA. It's a shame that so many IT professionals who like to consider themselves intelligent and educated are bloody ignorant morons when it comes to firearms (and mostly should STFU).

    Let me give you some basics:
    - single shot muzzleloader = load from the front, and fire, then must reload every round).

    - manual chambering (bolt, pump, lever, revolvers) = a mechanical action must be done to eject the old cartridge shell and chamber a new round, often this cocks the hammer/firing pin so the trigger can be pulled and one shot fired.

    - single action revolver = cylinder is manually rotated by cocking of hammer. One shot fired, then chamber must be manually cycled.

    - double action revolver = cyclinder is manually rotated by pulling of trigger, and fires a round. One shot fired for every trigger pull.

    - semi-auto action = gas from bullet powder exploding is used to eject the empty cartridge shell. A spring is used to return the slide back to position, re-cock the firearm, and chamber a new round in the process. One trigger pull = one shot. (AR15s, "Assault Weapons", etc are all semi-automatics).

    - automatic = gas from bullet powder exploding ejects cartridge, slide return re-cocks hammer, chambers a new round and then disengages hammer firing the new round. Repeat (or do/while ammo loop). An "assault rifle" M16/M4, and other fully automatic guns fall under this classification. These are the rifles which fall under the NFA.

    Dang...can we computer peeps get some common sense?

  • Let me lead everyone on a bit of a rabbit trail here, because this is very hypothetical. Still, I think it makes sense. Now, consider for a moment that the advent of and rapidly increasing accessibility and affordability of 3D printing may put common goods manufacturing into the hands of the consumer... and takes it away from the gigantic sweat-shop operating acmetm cartel. For Acme TM, that's scary as hell. Their business model goes away and, in spite of the fact that their once employees are now able
  • ... difficult for government to understand?

    As the purpose of it was the people would be able to defend themselves from the government, should the government get to far out of line.(See Declaration of Independence for all this) But there seems to be all sorts of double standards being applied by government to removed the ability of the people to defend themselves against a rough government, If at least not having equal but lessor fire power (which is no defense)

    As a rough government can be worse than any sma

We don't know one millionth of one percent about anything.

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