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ATF Tests Show 3D Printed Guns Can Explode 233

Lucas123 writes "The ATF has been testing 3D printed guns over the past year and, not surprisingly, has found that depending on the thermoplastics, 3D printers and CAD designs used, some can explode on the first attempt to shoot them. The ATF published videos this week of the tests on YouTube showing what looked like a Liberator model of a 3D gun exploding upon being fired. Another model, created with the popular ABS polymer and an advanced printer, could fire as many as 8 shots. The tests were published at a time when a law passed in 1988 banning the sale of guns made entirely of plastic is set to expire next month." I hope they post the videos when they do the same tests on Solid Concepts' 1911.
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ATF Tests Show 3D Printed Guns Can Explode

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  • do tell (Score:5, Insightful)

    by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Thursday November 14, 2013 @05:48PM (#45426694)
    metal guns explode, too.
    • Re:do tell (Score:5, Funny)

      by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Thursday November 14, 2013 @05:50PM (#45426724) Homepage Journal
      Is this the same federal govt that developed movies and campaigns saying that smoking pot would cause you to go insane, kill and rape people?
      • and said LSD would damage your genes so your offspring would be mutants

      • Re:do tell (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Thursday November 14, 2013 @06:12PM (#45426994)
        LOL. Seriously though, "Reefer Madness" was financed by a church group.
      • Well, it's true that if you smoke Mary Jane you will eventually die. Absolutely certain.

        • A friend of mine has this to say about "gateway drugs":

          So what if 20% of marijuana users go on to use "hard" drugs? They ALL started on milk!

          Correlation does not equal causation.
        • by AJWM ( 19027 )

          Well, it's true that if you smoke Mary Jane you will eventually die. Absolutely certain.

          Don't be so sure. A statistically significant fraction of the people who were ever born haven't died.

          Although I suppose "eventually" could extend to the heat death of the universe.

      • by bitt3n ( 941736 )

        Is this the same federal govt that developed movies and campaigns saying that smoking pot would cause you to go insane, kill and rape people?

        From the perspective of reducing your eventual jail sentence, doing the killing before the raping actually seems relatively sane, insofar as at that point, presumably all you're guilty of is desecrating a corpse.

        • I don't think the DA, judge or jury will care about the order and it will be off to the "big house" for a very long time, unless you are in a death penalty state where it's off to "death row" for a few years.
      • by fermion ( 181285 )
        Yes, and the same federal government that says hospitals cannot deny care to an injured person, and sets a policy that gun shots must be investigated. If we lived in a world where parents accidentally shot their kid, and if they did not have a way to pay for treatment, the parents had to find a way to a way to treat the kid not at the taxpayer expense, and the taxpayer were not paying police to investigate it, then the argument would be fair. The problem with dope, and even crack and meth, is that the tax
      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        Reefer Madness!! []

        Given any commercial shoulder arm or hand gun, I can load you a round the will burst the barrel.
        Not that hard.

      • No because there are very few people currently working for the government that were working when those films and campaigns were created. The "government" is not a monolithic consistent sentient entity. It is made of the people elected to control it and hired to work for it therefore it constantly changes. The current government is not the "same" as one 30 years ago.

    • And yet those cases make up a miniscule fraction of the number of times they hurt people. Exploding as soon as you use it is a bit more serious.

    • by mlts ( 1038732 ) *

      Put too hot a round into almost any firearm, be it plastic, metal, or whatever, and it will explode.

      I think this is really a non-issue. The Liberator was a proof of concept more than anything else. Of course, the technology will get better, but the only way one would use a 3D printed plastic pistol is if they had no other recourse.

      The real tests I'm curious about, would be the Solid Concept's 1911. I wonder how well sintered metal will take a high round count. Since the 1911 was made back when metal tec

      • no, most modern firearms fail more gracefully than that as the weapon gets destroyed

        • by mlts ( 1038732 ) *

          I should have been clearer with my wording. Any firearm will rupture or fail if too high power a load is put in. It might not explode with pieces going everywhere, but it will render the firearm into modern art sculpture, even though the user would be unharmed because of the good engineering.

    • Not often (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Thursday November 14, 2013 @06:08PM (#45426950)

      If you have a properly made gun, it takes a pretty bad malfunction to explode, and then usually they don't actually explode in any normal sense of the word, they just distend and crack. Guns are made to be reliable, since the agencies that buy them tend to value that.

    • by QA ( 146189 )

      I used to belong to a gun club. Competitive Bull's-eye shooter here.

      I've seen the top strap of a S&W model 686 (Stainless Steel 6" barrel .357 Magnum revolver) get peeled back due to an "explosion". The top of the cylinder was blown open, then the top strap was blown upwards and back.
      Now a revolver is inherently stronger than an automatic in most cases, and Smith & Wesson is a well manufactured pistol, but do you know what caused it? It was caused by a squib load.
      A squib load is not enough powder in

    • A properly manufactured weapon will fire thousands of rounds, with basic cleaning and maintenance. These printed guns can't make 10. They are not weapons, they are a political statement arguing that controlling the sale of guns is impossible because anybody can make one. It's not true, and the argument is literally blowing up in their face.

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        These are zip guns. The plastic printed one is obviously dangerous and unreliable even by the standard of zip guns (which usually start with a pipe from a hardware store and go downhill from there). This is a "look at what's possible" statement, and nothing more, especially in America where you can make a perfectly serviceable AR15 from some kit parts and a CnC mill, and legally so in most places.

        Heck, you can make a working AK47 for a shovel [] without advanced tools, if you're skilled.

        The technology will o

      • ...when pressure-bearing components are made from thermoplastics, which has never been argued to be a well-suited use. When parts are printed from metal alloys... the game changes.

        And for what it's worth, there is a Canadian inventor (who is remaining anonymous) who has successfully printed and fired a single-shot rifle.

        3D printing is destroying the separation between idea or data, and fabrication, and it's doing it on an affordable, individual level. Gun control from a regulatory and political standpoint

    • Especially if you want them to explode. I'm not saying they did or didn't perform tests using sub-par equipment or design the guns specifically to explode after a certain number of rounds are fired, but they sure didn't provide enough information about their testing procedure to reproduce the results or confirm they were valid tests.

      I don't know a whole lot about guns, but I'm pretty sure that if someone wanted to build a conventional gun that would reliably explode after the first shot, they could do it
  • by Press2ToContinue ( 2424598 ) * on Thursday November 14, 2013 @05:49PM (#45426700)

    Once they have these minor inconveniences ironed out I look forward to printing my own hand grenades, flame-throwers, rocket-launchers, heat-seeking missiles, and battalion of robo-troops to deploy them on my 3D-printed floating island in the pacific.

    Dammit - printer jam. brb

    • Molotov Cocktails are cheaper, more easily available, and faster to produce.
      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        Plus if the right stuff is used, if you get bored you can drink one and your firebombing will get even more fun!

    • I suspect that we...won't see them widely on the civilian market... but makers of larger explosives and munitions might actually have some very interesting ideas about 3d printing.

      In principle, as long as there is some 3d printing process that it doesn't react violently with, a propellant charge or warhead could be printed, with very precise control of shape and composition throughout the entire piece: one or more explosive varieties, binders/fillers, etc. deposited where you want them, in the combinatio
      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        There's already a neat technology that replaces the primer charge in a tank shell with an electrical system, and delivers slightly better performance. The army has tested it out, but isn't rushing to change over. Change comes slowly with this sort of thing, I guess. Maybe 3D printing would have an advantage as it doesn't require anything new in the tank, but it would still be an inventory/procurement change which I suspect is the real hurdle.

        • Oh, I don't doubt that it'd be a cost and inventory nightmare; but somebody would probably love to have a propellant load whose burn rate changes continuously throughout, based on distance from the point of ignition, so that the properties are optimal for the expected volume of the barrel at that point in the shell's progress out of it...
          • Sure, 3d printing will revolutionize explosives. But it's also going to revolutionize reactive armor.

            • Sure, 3d printing will revolutionize explosives. But it's also going to revolutionize reactive armor.

              So you're saying that it'll help expand two product lines? Score!

              -General Dynamics

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            Well, the real problem today is that the primary still takes some time for the explosion to travel, and only certain shapes are possible. The nice thing about the electrical approach is far more freedom to shape the primary, and it all explodes at the same instant. But, yeah, getting clever with the main charge might also yield more, and who knows what cleverness might be possible with normal artillery charges.

            The thing is, they're already quite close to optimal. There's just a few % in performance to be

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      PC Load Letter? What the fuck does that mean?!?!
    • by bitt3n ( 941736 )

      Once they have these minor inconveniences ironed out I look forward to printing my own hand grenades

      Apparently, you can already make a hand grenade. It's called a Liberator.

  • So the same contractor who built the health care website builds 3D printers now? Joking aside this would not be a very good test if the agency regulating guns came out and said the ones you make yourself without regulation work better than the ones we regulate, now would it.
  • I'm thinking of the scene in the western where the Sheriff is telling the writer what he got wrong in his story. "And BLAM! It blows his hand off, which was a failing common to that model."

    I can see making one just to see it work, but in a vice with a string on its trigger. You'd be a fool to shoot a gun with a plastic barrel while holding it. Even steel breaks sometimes.

  • Real world point "Don't be an idiot and make a gun out of plastic". Fear mongering point., "someone might make a single shot pistol that could be smuggled past a metal detector".

    Let the fear mongering begin!

  • The plastic gun sale ban is the motivation here. The ATF doesn't care how many people get hurt by bad, homemade guns. The ATF cares about making their own jobs easier by keeping the plastic gun ban in place.

    That said, I think most plastic guns are a horrible idea. But, that's why I don't buy nor use them. I have no problem with others doing so while safely away from me.

    • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

      Are you including Glocks in your "plastic guns are a horrible idea" statement? Because they are generally considered to be of above-average reliability, and are substantially (but obviously not entirely) made out of plastic.

    • by glitch0 ( 859137 )

      But, that's why I don't buy nor use them.

      If plastic guns are banned, then you can't buy nor use them anyway. You don't even have the option.

  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Thursday November 14, 2013 @05:58PM (#45426846)

    So they can show that 3d printed guns are bad and should be outlawed.

    WTF, how is this even news?

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Thursday November 14, 2013 @06:00PM (#45426860)

    It looks then like we don't need to pass any laws around 3D printing of guns, since according to the feds it's a self-correcting problem.

    • by Valdrax ( 32670 )

      It looks then like we don't need to pass any laws around 3D printing of guns, since according to the feds it's a self-correcting problem.

      By that logic, so are suicide bombers.

      • By that logic, so are suicide bombers.

        No, suicide bombers hurt many people around them. Watch the video, the only person much impacted by an exploding plastic gun is the person holding it. The person in front of them is certainly safe.

        • by Valdrax ( 32670 )

          Watch the video, the only person much impacted by an exploding plastic gun is the person holding it. The person in front of them is certainly safe.

          That only matters if the gun has a high enough failure rate. With ABS plastic, it doesn't.

          Assassins fail frequently, but that's cold comfort when they don't. And in many crimes, the threat of a gun is more important than its use, such as kidnapping, robbery, and hijacking. A one-shot, oversized derringer is good enough for many troublesome purposes, and since bullets are made of non-ferrous materials, metal detectors are worthless against them.

          It was a somewhat funny, flip comment, but the issues that pl

  • Entirely Appropriate (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hedgemage ( 934558 ) on Thursday November 14, 2013 @06:01PM (#45426870)
    I think its entirely appropriate for government to determine safety standards and inform the citizenry when something doesn't comply. With the manufacturing of /everything/ by 3D printers, the vast majority of the populace has no way to determine which designs are safe and stable and which are junk because most of them are not engineers or materials scientists. I think that testing and rating designs for potentially dangerous items, not just firearms, that could cause grievous harm due to catastrophic failure is good role for government to act in the common good.

    Keep the designs free for all, but provide a central database where I can reference a rating performed by experts. I wouldn't mind my tax dollars going for that.
  • The plastic gun might be novel and all, but if it can't hit anything because the barrel and other important parts flex and distort too much, then it's not worth anything as a weapon. And if another one gets off 8 shots before self-destructing the question should be asked of whether the first 7 shots were of any accuracy.
    • by mlts ( 1038732 ) *

      I'm sure someone will mention that a device that just has one shot in an airplane can mean more than an AR-15 on the ground.

      Then there is the fact that some gangster may not really care about accuracy. For most things, pulling out any type of firearm on a victim will get the criminal the car, wallet, bag o' meth, or even a hostage.

      Of course, this gives me a fear that the other shoe will fall -- DRM on 3D printers. I can see this implemented very easily:

      1: No printer will function unless the pieces are si

    • How accurate the gun has to be depends on the range. A gun that's only accurate within five feet of the aiming point at fifty yards is probably good enough if you're planning to be within ten feet of your target.
  • Original musket style guns had a problem with exploding too, yet metallurgy and gun designs have improved since then.

    3D printing is still in is infancy, so the 3D guns will get better as designers learn about the weaknesses of the materials and design around them.

    I wouldn't see a 3D gun as any more than a novelty today, but within a few years they will be much improved -- efforts to legislate them will just drive the designs and designers underground, it's not like the war on drugs has made it impossible,

  • Bullets kill people, guns just make them go fast and straight.
  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Thursday November 14, 2013 @06:03PM (#45426904)
    I can think of many tools that if used wrong can kill.

    3d printers just get bad press because manufacturing is afraid of losing out on money.

    Anything that is new will get bad press if people will lose money.

    Examples: MPAA/RIAA hated the Internet for sharing songs. So they sued grandmothers for millions and won.
    Cable companies are afraid they'll give you too much bandwith and never pay for TV again. So they restrict usages like jerks.
    Newspaper is worried that free online newspaper will put them out of buisness. So Murdoc makes threatening claims.
    Petroleum giants are afraid of the electric car, so anything something slightly goes wrong with a Tesla, it makes press.
    Energy Utilities are afraid of solar, so solar gets all sorts of negative press that it will never fly or be a solution.
    It just goes on and on. People with money are afraid of losing their cash cows, so instead of doing what's good for society, they do whats best for themselves. And part of the equation today is,"You can only get away with so much in USA politics. If you can't make a bull shit propoganda story why something is bad for society, people won't elect the crook next cycle." And really, that is about the only thing that keeps the USA from going from suck to blow. So any time someone paints a bullshit propoganda story to you, be a good citizen and dismantle it.
  • Well great, the government has done us the service of telling us what we already know. Also, water is wet. How many billions of dollars did this official report cost? Because hell if a website is running into the billions, certainly field testing has got to be worth a couple billion at least!
  • 3d printed guns would matter in the USA if guns were expensive or scarce. But at the moment. Metal mass produced guns are cheap and plentafull. Even crazy people and children can afford guns.
  • I would make a wisecrack about Thomas Edison being put in charge of making these videos, but it appears no elephants were harmed.

  • Plastic not as strong as steel!

    On a related subject. Plastic doesn't hold up to the extreme heat generated by multiple rounds as well as steel.

    If you didn't see this coming, you are on track to earn a Darwin.

  • "Liberator"..... as some friends of mine pointed out, takes the name of a gun that was dropped in Nazi occupied germany; and essentially encouraged people to use it...once... to shoot a nazi and aquire a real gun. :)

    I think the idea is just that, this obviates the need for manufacturing outside and air dropping in, if any geek with a modest personal investment can make them by the 10s or 100s.

  • A lot of the hunters and such around here go on and on about how their guns are part of their family heritage, they are beautiful works of engineering, etc. I agree with all those arguments. There's something beautiful in a hundred year old pistol that still works, or a lovingly crafted replica of a piece from 1776.

    This thing? This is an ugly piece of plastic made by people just to give the proverbial middle finger to the government. There's no heritage here. Just the same kind of morons who refuse to
    • This is an ugly piece of plastic made by people just to give the proverbial middle finger to the government.

      The fact that an ugly piece of plastic does give the middle finger to the government is what makes it an important political statement.

  • Or am I being too cynical in suggesting that they might just want to indulge in a little FUD wrt plastic guns...
  • I never would have thought that possible. Captain Obvious hard at work i see.

    Remember tho, its all part of a plan to scare people into staying away from this technology and not advancing it.

  • Like that matters, as they wont let an anti-freedom law expire in the current totalitarian environment out there in Washington.

    • by Valdrax ( 32670 )

      Like that matters, as they wont let an anti-freedom law expire in the current totalitarian environment out there in Washington.

      I don't know what sort of horrible, dystopian world you think you live in, but I kind of want to visit one in which Washington actually gets something done.

  • 1. Anyone paying the least attention would know that the developers of the Liberator prototype had numerous failures, some on first discharge. Much press, several reports.

    2. Defying the law banning the sale of plastic guns was not the point of the exercise to design a 3D printed gun. There is, as of yet, no law I am aware of that prevents the manufacture of a plastic gun for your own use. The point was to demonstrate it was possible for individuals of relatively common skill, with access to technology, t

  • Some people only believe it if the ATF tells them it's true...
  • The ATF cheaped out on their 3D printer, in other news reports have come in about corner cutting in other branches of the government. More at 11.

  • Mix a explosive with the plastic and make an everyday looking item with it. Like luggage wheels.

  • ATF is trying to make a political point. It looks like they are intentionally using a different kind of plastic.
  • Headline: plastic isn't metal, test finds.
    This isn't surprising. They're going to need to find some composite material or something to make a decent gun. Since it'd basically be required to melt, I don't think we're even within 10 years of inventing something like that.
  • Wasn't this already common knowledge? When the first articles on printed guns showed up on slashdot, the number of survivable shots were in the single digits. Is this yet another example of the federal government revealing with great pomposity the most mundane data that everyone already knew?

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      The idea of a plastic gun only needs 1-2 shots. It's either an assassins tool, or a tool used to kill someone that has a better gun. Same reason we made and dropped a lot of single shot guns all over France in WW-II

  • We'll keep you posted with the latest as we get it.

  • All laws come with an expiration date? WE have so many bad laws on the books that time could erase... Like the DMCA, PATRIOT, etc....

  • You're thinking his gun's made of plastic! It's going to explode the moment he pulls the trigger! Well to be honest I'm not really sure myself. So you should ask yourself... Do ya feel lucky, punk? WELL, DO YA?

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"