In a video posted on YouTube early in the month of November, 3D printing company Solid Concepts demonstrated a fully functional 1911 handgun. What made this particular gun unique is that with the exception of six springs, was entirely made of printed parts.
While not the first 3D printed gun, it is the first that is made of metal through a process known as Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), giving it the durability to survive multiple firings. At the time of writing, the Solid Concepts first printed 1911 has fired over 700 rounds and is still fully operations.
Prior to Solid Concepts’ creation, 3D printed guns were made of plastic, either almost entirely such as a design of non-profit organization Defense Distributed, the Liberator, or partially, combining it with pre-manufactured metal parts such as the barrel and upper receiver in an assault rifle. Defense Distributed has been working on an open access wiki project to allow the free exchange of printable gun designs. The Liberator itself has only one non-printed part, a nail used as a firing pin, and fires .22 caliber rounds.
One major concern over plastic firearms that can be printed is the ease in which someone can get them past current detection systems, such as metal detectors at the court house. In response to this concern Philadelphia, Penn. has banned the manufacturing of guns through 3D printing technology. These concerns may be premature, however, since the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has lead a series of tests on the Liberator and found that they are unreliable and prone to self-destruction upon firing.
Solid Concepts’ 1911 does not suffer the inherent problem of being unable to fire multiple rounds. This fact is what lead the company to design the firearm, to show that DMLS printing has the ability to print products that can stand up to a high volume of pressure. On its website the company states “The whole concept of the metal sintered gun was not to produce a cheap gun, our intent revolved around proving the reliability, usability, durability and accuracy of metal 3D Printing.” It also states that if it decides to sell copies of its 1911 in the future, the cost will be in the five figure range, making it well beyond the price range for the average customer.
This full metal printing is not for the average home user either, with DMLS machines ranging in cost from $400,000 to well over $1,000,000. For an individual to have such a machine would be the equivalent to having a CNC lathing machine in their garage, which can also make similar productions.
Instead of using industrial style machines to create ready to go firearms, or the more accessible plastic style printers which produce unreliable guns at best, home gun builders are better off using other methods. Even building an AK-47 from a shovel, as one contributing member of the Northeastshooters.com forums member did. Username Boris posted pictures and description of the process in November of 2012, showing how he cut and reformed bits of a shovel into various parts of the gun, which he then married to a blank, aftermarket stock , wooden grips, and, presumably, a firing pin.
It should be noted that manufacturing a firearm at home is not in and of itself illegal. According to the ATF an individual is allowed to manufacture a firearm with a license, but not for sale or distribution. There are, of course, limitations to this, and the ATF may have additional requirements to be completely legal.
The future of 3D printed guns will likely fall into the category of free speech instead of gun control. As the attorneys and courts try to figure this one out, be on the look out for technology to confuse this situation even more. In the meantime, be safe, and be smart.