Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Annie, Get Your Printer!!


Printable guns just don’t want to go away, do they ?

Remember the hubbub over the high tech printers that let you prototype gears, parts, scale model buildings and cars?  It was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to print a working 3-D gun.

Parts of a printable gun
Parts needed for a 3-D printed gun.  They don't look very robust to me.

It happened much sooner than later and the cry went across the land, “It’s not detectable by metal detectors!  We’ll have children printing out guns and shooting each other!”  These, of course, are the gun banners’ touchstones: children and the fear of invisible stealth guns.

When I first saw the articles a good 3-D printer cost $30,000, not counting resin.  That’s a price little above the range of all but the most ardent hobbyist and companies.  The programs to print these firearms were free on the internet.  The State Department has forced Defense Distributed to remove the downloadable software and they have done so.

Of course the cat is out of the bag.  Outside of nude pictures of what’s-her-name, that software was one of the most frequently downloaded programs.  If you need a copy, I suspect all you need to do is ask enough teenage boys.  They may not have the printer but they got the software.

Even Europe is in on the act.  Austria claims they bought a 3-D printer for around $1400 and printed out a gun in 30 hours.  They also claim they fired four 9mm rounds into tissue stimulant or gelatin.

No information on the actual bullet was made available.  We don’t know if it was a reduced load, if the gun was all printed plastic, or if it contained a metal chamber.

I saw a video of a printed gun and it looked like the hammer served as the breach face and held the cartridge in place during firing.  The gun was a single shot and you needed a pointy stick to poke the empty brass case out before loading another.  Other articles suggest the short, smooth bore barrel shown in many of the pictures and videos is necessary to prevent internal pressure building up and blowing the gun up.  Yeah, a reduced 9mm load, called a 9 Kurz or .380 sounds reasonable in Austria’s experiment.

BATF has tested these guns and found ABS plastic works better than most, but they warn 3-D printed guns are fickle.  Sometimes they’ll fire and other times they’ll blow up in your hand.  No surprise here.  I suspect each round fired pushes the gun to the very edge of plastic and design failure.  I do find it strange that BATF would suggest using ABS plastic if these guns were a problem.

So what are 3-D guns?
  • Tools of terrorists?
  • The perfect murder weapon?
  • A guarantee that guns will be available no matter what the government does?
  • A rich man’s toy?


I haven’t decided, yet.

I grew up with the idea of making zip guns from a section of a telescoping car antenna, a .22 short and a piece of springy steel all taped to a wood block.  I’ve seen examples of single shot devices made under crude conditions that killed Japanese during WWII.  It seems anyone with a little know-how and access to a modest machine shop could make a very reliable six shooter or semi auto.  Something that can fire a bullet will always be around.

The uproar over 3-D plastic guns seems to be centered on two things: non-detectable and non-regulated.  Both are, in my opinion, non-starters.  These guns are massive and difficult to conceal.  

Assembled 3-D gun
Here's a 3-D gun assembled.  It looks pretty chunky to me.  Note, the trigger seems snapped off, never a good thing with a gun. 

They have to be big to resist the pressures of even feeble .22 shorts.  And as I understand it, anyone can legally make themselves a gun without government oversight.  It’s only when you sell them do the Feds get involved.

Nobody is going to print a plastic gun so they can shoot someone.  It will make great fodder for mystery writers.  Oh, wait it has.  Check out Eastwood’s “Line of Fire.”

Hollywoods 1993 idea of a plastic gun
Hollywood's idea of a plastic gun in 1993 from "Line of Fire."   Fiction looks a lot better than the current printable guns!

Here’s a thought.  Maybe it’s a good thing.  Let me tell you about a science fiction short story written after the atomic bomb was born and before lasers.  It made an impression on me years ago but I can’t find the author or title.  If the story sounds familiar, send me a reference.

Called to testify in front of a televised Senate subcommittee hearing on western land use, a rancher takes advantage to tell the Senators and everyone listening about a new tool.

The rancher invented it, after some trial and error, out of ordinary household objects.  He explains using this tool powered by a 9 volt battery, ranch hands are able to cut wood, start fires and bore post holes in the ground and break up large rocks that need to be moved.  The details go out across the world on live TV in this pre-internet fictional world. 

The Senators question him about power and range and he tells them with sufficient power, say a car battery or two he believes you could poke a hole in the moon.  He also reveals that should he be arrested and unjustly imprisoned, he believes that his ranch hands and all his self-reliant neighbors would use their tools to free him.

That’s when our fictional Senators realize power will shift from them and the government back to the hands of everyday people.   

The Senators decide to repress the information, but the rancher reveals that complete plans and construction details have been mailed sometime ago to quite a few radio and electrical hobbyist magazines, most of which are outside the North American continent.  The genie is out of the bottle and isn’t going back.

The Senators demand the cameramen turn off their broadcasting system, but the power has already started to shift.  No dice they say.  We are master electrical technicians they reply and nobody tells them what to do.

Free plans, which will get better, better building materials and the price of 3-D printers coming down.  Hmmm….is this a shift in power?

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