I say this as both a firearm enthusiast and an advocate for strong firearm regulation. It is becoming evident that there is a point when we as a society are just going to have to accept that 3D printed weapons are not going to disappear behind walls of legislation. Will that point be when entire guns can easily be 3D printed and constructed at home? Because it is pretty evident at this point that 3D printable firearms will be here soon, and both sides of the controversial issue are going to have to stop chipping away at each other’s platforms and start a real conversation about what kind of society we will have when they get here.
At this point, we have all heard of the Liberator created by Cody Wilson, the original 3D printed handgun that got gun nuts overly excited and anti-gun nuts wildly up in arms. For those of us in the middle, realistically the Liberator is a single shot firearm completely made of plastic and is probably not much of a real threat to anyone. And I don’t believe that even with subsequent upgrades and redesigns that have turned it into a much more reliable and dependable firearm, that has really changed. But firearms enthusiasts with 3D printers obviously weren’t going to stop with the Liberator, and they have turned to designing hybrid firearms made of 3D printed parts combined with more durable parts culled from traditionally manufactured guns.
One of the most sophisticated and impressive hybrid designs out there is the Shuty, a 9mm semiauto based on a combination of parts from a standard AR-15 and the homemade firearm designs of P.A. Luty. The design for the Shuty combines a metal bolt, an AR fire-control group and the barrel of a Glock combined with a 3D printed bolt carrier, upper and lower receivers and even a 3D printed magazine.
Here is a video of the Shuty’s designer derwoodvw showing off the parts and assembly process:
The 3D printed parts are all made from standard PLA printed on an Orion from SeeMeCNC. The design intentionally combines metal parts that will be exposed to repeated use with its printed parts that will encounter less wear and tear. With so many plastic parts the Shuty is obviously going to have a rather short period of usability, but because of the clever mixing of metal and printed parts it will be far longer than the one-and-done Liberator.
One of the fears of those in favor of banning 3D printed guns is that they might be used in crimes, mass shootings or even for political assassinations. Anyone who has used or 3D printed a gun, regardless of their stance on the issue, is going to be able to tell you with some authority that that isn’t a fear that is based in reality. In terms of actual, practical usability the Shuty really isn’t going to score many points there, especially with no stock or sights. It also looks like a brick, and isn’t going to be comfortably or surreptitiously tucked into any waistbands without looking like an idiot.
But while the Shuty isn’t the prettiest gun on the block, it is certainly a cleverly designed one, and most importantly not only does it work, but it actually works pretty well. But it is still a work in progress, so it will undoubtedly be improved with each new iteration. So while right now 3D printed guns are probably the last firearm anyone would choose when planning to commit a crime, that is likely to change at some point. Especially as more advanced 3D printing materials far stronger than standard PLA become available.
However, as Derwood says in the description of one of his test videos, at this point the Shuty “is now functioning perfect” and certainly looks intimidating despite its clumsy appearance. If the plastic parts are replaced with more durable and advanced 3D printing materials then it could become a little more of a threat. And even now it is an excellent example of a homemade firearm proof of concept.
Here is Derwood’s latest test fire video posted to YouTube on May 27, 2015:
Gun control advocates insist that eliminating guns in the United States would save lives and reduce (our already record low) crime rates, and they have the Facebook memes about gun availability in European countries to prove it. But you simply can’t erase the last 200 years of our history and culture, and those same European countries don’t have the right to own firearms written into their constitutions. Not to mention the fact that there are an estimated 8.8 guns for each 10 people in the country, so even banning guns isn’t going to result in a gun shortage. They’re going to have to understand that guns aren’t going away, and neither is the culture that surrounds them.
But firearms enthusiasts and gun owners are also going to have to face up to some hard realities. They can quote the second amendment all that they want, while trying to pretend that the words “well regulated” aren’t in it, but it simply does not mean all or nothing no matter how much you want it to. The Supreme Court has already ruled that regulation doesn’t violate the Constitution, and because of the fragmented nature of our country, each state sets its own gun laws that are often wildly out of sync with each other. Rather than fighting the inevitability of gun regulation, the smarter move is to implement sane, logical and effective legislation that preserves gun owners’ rights but puts a system in place to help prevent those who would misuse them from getting their hands on them.
As much as both sides of the gun debate, as well as the 3D printed gun issue, want their problems with it to go away, that simply isn’t going to happen. The fact that both sides can be less than mature when responding to the opinions of the other certainly isn’t helping settle the issue either. (As I can attest with the hate mail from both sides that I often receive after I write anything on the issue.) Ultimately, some things are going to have to change with the way that we debate and discuss the politics of firearm ownership, especially as it relates to the 3D printing industry. If we don’t, then history has taught us that the option for us to debate the issue is going to be replaced with poorly thought-out laws rammed through Congress.
How long until laws are passed requiring manufacturers to include blocks for 3D printed firearm parts? The fact that it is almost un-implementable wouldn’t alter the fact that it has already happened with other technologies. And beyond guns, I’m extremely uncomfortable with the law regulating what someone can and cannot print on their printer. It isn’t as far a leap from preventing the printing of gun parts to preventing materials considered obscene, or preventing trademarked materials from being printed at home. 3D printing is still highly emergent technology that, while opening entirely new possibilities, is still struggling to find its proper place in our world. Things rarely go well when governments step in to regulate technology that they don’t understand.
Let us know what you think of the 3D printed firearm issue (or call me a pinko scum or a fascist or a micro-penised gun nut, depending on your political ideology) over on our Shuty 3D Printed 9mm Pistol forum thread at 3DPB.com.