Is it possible to ban 3D printed guns?

Legislation that would ban 3D printed guns was originally proposed by New York Congressman Steve Israel but was not passed into law. According to Israel’s office he is planning to reintroduce his “The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act” bill in the near future. The legislation would focus on banning any weapons undetectable to a common X-ray machine, not just 3D printed ones.

3d printed guns

Undetectable Firearms Act

While additive manufactured guns like the one-shot Liberator include a piece of metal to comply with the “Undetectable Firearms Act” ,which was extended in 2013 for an additional 10 years, the metal included was non-functional. However Israel’s bill would require functional components of firearms to be detectable, i.e. metal. Unlike the Undetectable Firearms Act which requires the gun as a whole to be as detectable as 3.7 ounces of steel.  The congressman’s bill wouldn’t prevent someone from 3D printing one part of a gun and buying the rest of the components online legally. Israel’s bill mainly deals with the weapon being detectable.

Ghost Gunners

Companies like Defense Distributed, founded by Cody Wilson a University of Texas law student, have been selling CNC mills, also known as Ghost Gunners. These are designed around the lower receiver of an AR-15 rifle. Currently selling an untraceable gun body is illegal, but making one for personal use is not illegal which some gun hobbyists have been doing for years. However this does not include Title II and Assault weapons in jurisdictions which still ban them.

liberator - 3d printed gun
Parts for the “Liberator” 3D printed handgun

Removing CAD files for 3D printed guns from the Internet

Israel’s bill is aimed at removing files that can print weapons from the internet although, from the standpoint of banning undetectable weapons, the ability to do so seems difficult if not extremely tricky. However, Hod Lipson, a professor of engineering from Cornell thinks “Perhaps the only way forward, if we choose to try and control this, is to control the gunpowder — the explosives — and not the actual device”. Furthermore, a U.S Department of Homeland Security bulletin obtained by Fox News says: “Significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printer files for firearms components, and difficulty regulating file sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns. Proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production
. Even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these digital files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files.”


The decision to specifically ban or limit additive manufacturing used to make weapons seems to be some way off. However, in Japan Yoshitomo Imura was the first person to be arrested for having a 3D printed gun. While he wasn’t prevented from making the weapon, he was penalized for the weapon being in his possession. All of this will lead to a very interesting conclusion as to how the U.S government and the nation will look at additive manufacturing and how it pertains to weapons.



1 thought on “Is it possible to ban 3D printed guns?”

  1. It will never happen, there can be laws against it and ISP’s can try to black list IP addresses that host them, but because of deep web resources such as TOR and torrent sites, the availability will always be just a few clicks away.

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