All your questions about 3D guns answered

By Susannah Cullinane and Doug Criss

Published August 1, 2018

Just what are 3D-printed guns?

Firearms assembled from ABS plastic parts that can be made with a 3D printer. The Defense Distributed website would have allowed people to download plans for building 3D guns, including an AR-15-style rifle.

Courtesy Marisa Vasquez

How do you print a 3D gun?

3D printing uses computer-created digital models to create real-world objects, from chess pieces to functioning clocks. The printers follow the shape of the model by stacking layer upon layer of plastic or other material to make the objects.

Courtesy Marisa Vasquez

How hard is it to print one?

Even machinists with average skills are able to produce 3D printed firearms.

Mitch Free

Chairman & CEO of the 3D printing company ZYCI CNC Machining

Free also said 3D printing is more accessible than ever because of software improvements and some slight reductions in the cost of 3D scanners and fabrication tools.

CNN/Getty Images

Can anybody do it?

Yes -- but its not cheap. The higher-end 3D printers cost thousands of dollars. The cost doesn't ease the concerns of those who think guns made from 3D printers are a bad idea.


So why are some people against them?

Critics fear the DIY guns could create security concerns because they are untraceable and would largely be invisible to metal detectors. They also fear the technology makes it easy for people who are dangerous to pass criminal background checks to get their hands on guns.

Courtesy Marisa Vasquez

What do defenders of these guns say?

Cody Wilson is the founder of Defense Distributed and the person who introduced the world to 3D-printed guns. He says the ability to build unregulated and untraceable guns will make it much harder, if not impossible, for governments to ban them.

Courtesy Marisa Vasquez

Wilson sees this fight as a free speech issue. He sued the government for violating his First Amendment rights and shifted the focus of the debate away from gun control to a discussion about access to data and information online.

Defense Distributed/YouTube

Why did the US government intervene?

It accused Wilson of potentially breaching International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which regulate the export of defense materials, services and technical data. Someone in another country -- one that doesn't buy weapons from the US -- could download the material and make guns, officials said.

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What do lawmakers say about this?

In December 2013, a federal law requiring that all guns be detectable by metal screening machines was extended for another 10 years. Plastic gun designs got around this restriction by adding a removable metal block, which isn't required for the firearm to function.

Courtesy Marisa Vasquez

In June, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, introduced a bill that would amend the Undetectable Firearms Act to prohibit firearms that do not have a major component that can be detected at airport security screening.


How effective are the guns?

In 2013, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives made public tests it has done on the Liberator model. One gun made with a plastic called ABS-M30 fired a .380-caliber round without failing all eight times it was tested, ATF officials said, describing it as "a lethal weapon."

Courtesy Marisa Vasquez

Where does the case stand now?

The issue will go back to court on August 10, when both sides will argue over whether a preliminary injunction is needed.

Courtesy Marisa Vasquez