Each built a working gun that included a part made in plastic with a 3-D printer
A man in Wisconsin viewed it as a technical challenge. Another, in New Hampshire, was looking to save some money. And in Texas, a third wanted to make a political point.
The three may have had different motivations but their results were the same: each built a working gun that included a part made in plastic with a 3-D printer.
What they did was legal and, except for the technology and material used, not much different from what do-it-yourself gunsmiths have been doing for decades. But in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., and the intensified debate over gun control, their efforts, which began last summer, have stoked concerns that the inexpensive and increasingly popular printers and other digital fabrication tools might make access to weapons even easier.
“We now have 3-D printers that can manufacture firearms components in the basement,” said Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York. “It’s just a matter of time before a 3-D printer will produce a weapon capable of firing bullets.”
A 3-D printer builds an object layer by layer in three dimensions, usually in plastic. To effectively outlaw weapons made with them, Mr. Israel wants to extend an existing law, set to expire this year, that makes weapons that are undetectable by security scanners — like a printed all-plastic gun — illegal.
But there are also major technical obstacles to creating an entire gun on a 3-D printer, not the least of which is that a plastic gun would probably melt or explode upon firing a single bullet, making it about as likely to kill the gunman as the target.
In the meantime, Michael Guslick in Milwaukee, Chapman Baetzel in Dover, N.H., and Cody Wilson in Austin, Tex., did something much simpler and, for now, more effective. They printed the part of an AR-15 assault rifle called the lower receiver, the central piece that other parts are attached to. Then, using standard metal components, including the chamber and barrel — the parts that must be strong enough to withstand the intense pressure of a bullet firing — they assembled working guns.
In all, the three men, who have written about their efforts on the Web, have fired hundreds of rounds, although the plastic receivers eventually deform, crack or otherwise fail from heat and shock. But Mr. Wilson, for one, is working on a fourth-generation design that he says should be more durable.
A lower receiver is the only part of an AR-15 that, when bought, requires the filing of federal paperwork. But it is legal to make an AR-15 — and many other guns — for personal use as long as there is no intent to sell them. And if the lower receiver is homemade, no paperwork is required.
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