Mass Noun – A Stupidity of Congressmen

Congress is meeting to “fix” it. Trump is thinking about it. A judge has forbid it. What is it?

Information on a gun design. A computer program of sorts that tells a 3D printer how to print parts for guns.

Yes, it breaks many of the current gun banning (“control”) practices. Yes, it lets folks get guns that otherwise I might want disarmed. Yes, it even lets you make a gun that gets past X-ray detectors.

But all that is possible without the 3D printer controller plans.

Furthermore, ALL that is being blocked is one set of “how to” instructions from one guy. NOTHING can possibly prevent another guy from coming up with very similar plans. The concepts are pretty simple and the design work fairly minimal. The process makes pretty crappy guns anyway. (Plastic means the shell pressures must be kept very low and generally you will have 1 shot or a revolver with 6 shots that is HUGE due to the need for lots and lots of plastic to not blow up in your face.) For the AR-15 plans, only a few parts are 3D printed, the rest are bought and made of steel.

Now consider this:

I can, right now, buy a book of plans for gun designs. In fact, I already own 2 of them. One for EVERY military and most civilian guns up until about 1991 and the other for “improvised” guns. Guns made from water pipe, wood, and rubber bands. What’s more, I’d rather have one made with water pipe in my hand than one made of plastic. So we’ve already GOT the right to buy plans for making guns. Also consider that NOTHING prevents me from making a photo copy of a page or three and putting them in the mail to a friend. Gun making is 1800s era technology. It isn’t that hard.

Now, compare the 3D plan “issue”: NOTHING blocks my buying a 3D printer (in fact it would be brain dead to “control” 3D printers as they are going to become as common as toasters). NOTHING will block the sharing of plans for “how to” print various things on them. There are already web sites specializing in just that.

As different objects are scanned, their plans are shared. One of the current “hot items” is 3D printed hands for amputees. Another is 3D printer plans for making 3D printer parts… a bootstrapping operation for personal 3D printers. Now, I could choose to put those plans in an e-mail and send them to a friend. Are we going to have laws forbidding private communications? Hmmm? What about that constitutional right to free speech, eh?

Now look at that word “Scanned”. Usually a 3D printer is matched with a 3D scanner. When you want a new water cup, you put an existing one on the scanner. It makes the “plans” as a scanned image. You can now modify it if you like (taller, shorter, trim off bits) and send that to the 3D printer. Just what is going to prevent me from taking, say, the grips on my Colt and scanning them, then printing a couple of new ones? Or borrow a friends 3D printed revolver and scan the parts? Er, nothing. No law can do it. It is all behind closed doors person to person with no information trail.

At most, banning internet sharing can slow down the rate of diffusion of information by a small amount. But in reality, not that much slower. Private sharing networks will do the deed.

Even “scanning” all email to detect the gun plans won’t work. Just encrypt the plan before attaching it. Now it’s just a bag of bits with no pattern.

So, AT BEST, banning this practice can move it to an interchange of plans “below the radar” as encrypted email attachments.

It is also quite possible to just set up an account in some other country without that ban and publish the plans there. EVEN IF YOU BLOCK THE SITE; it will be downloaded by millions and then enter the email exchange. (Or the “Dark Web”…)

It is just sooo incredibly stupid and full of hubris to think that it is even remotely possible to prevent information from flowing or speech (even if machine speech) from happening. Similarly incredibly stupid and full of hubris is the idea that what is done with 3D printers can be limited. These are NOT complicated devices and even if they were all forced to be made with Big Brother Inside, then you could just roll your own without. The plans already exist in the wild.

Which brings me to the final point:

The 3D Gun plans are also already in the wild. When this first came up, loads and loads of folks downloaded the plans prior to the shutdown of the site. I was one of them. I’ve lost track of exactly where they are. Some archive somewhere or some old computer in the garage. IF I really cared enough, though, I could find them. Now unless you intend to rummage through every archive on the planet and search every garage and every drop box in the Cloud, you can not eradicate that information. Nor can you prevent it from being shared. If not via a web site, or the dark web, then via email or even “sneaker net” as USB sticks hand to hand (or even via UPS…)

In Conclusion

So Congress is going to run off to tilt at windmills. The Dimocrats have announced that this next election cycle their theme will be gun banning (“control”) as they think this is a winning ticket for them. Expect the 3D plastic crummy guns to be played up as Evil Incarnate for the process.

Yet it is very clear that it is not possible to prevent the diffusion of the plans by many other means. It is not possible to prevent other folks creating such plans on their own. There is fundamentally no way to prevent the 3D printers from printing them. Suppression of 3D printing would do far far more harm than good. (Think kids with no hands and no 3D printed prosthetics arriving). Then consider that it is already too late to prevent the plans from existing “in the wild”.

There is an incredibly Stupidity Of Congressmen about to spend days of their lives claiming to do the impossible to prevent a non-problem from happening, when it is already a done deal. They will stand before the ocean and shout “Stop Damn Tide!” and be surprised at their wet feet…

It is far far easier, and far far more lethal, for a Terrorist to rent a truck and drive down the sidewalk than to bother taking a couple of weeks and several $Thousand dollars to buy or build a 3D printer and make a lousy bulky plastic 3D revolver with 6 low pressure (so very low power) shots in it.

By far the better place to put attention would be on identifying those folks of ill intent and getting THEM off the streets and off the internet.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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37 Responses to Mass Noun – A Stupidity of Congressmen

  1. E.M.Smith says:

    OK, I ought to have done this prior to hitting POST. I didn’t. But at least now the two time stamps will show how long it took.

    After hitting post I did a web search on “3D gun download” and then downloaded the plans (really 3D printer program) for the single shot version. Yeah, that fast and that easy.

    So how’s that ban on the download going Judgy?…

  2. philjourdan says:

    Another is 3D printer plans for making 3D printer parts… a bootstrapping operation for personal 3D printers.

    SKYNET! :-)

    The government does not learn. They tried the same stunts (with less hysteria) about movies and songs. You can still download those whenever you want! Hell, you just wrote an article about how to “rip” YouTube videos! Same thing (actually less dangerous to the ones doing the copying as songs and movies do not blow up in your face – like a plastic gun).

    The problem is that almost NO news outlets (and that includes Fox) have actually written an in depth article about what the plans can do. Instead they focus on the hysteria which has as much chance of happening as Global warming running amok!

    It is just the latest episode of TAD (psychologists have “officially” named TDS as Trump Anxiety Disorder). But this too shall pass. Life is too short to waste it worrying about the stupidity of government and the elected idiots.

  3. wyoskeptic says:

    First of all it is unlikely to be undetectable. Anyone who uses a 3D (plastic) printer to form a barrel and/or receiver DESERVES to be removed from the Darwinian gene pool. The patterns are for all the plastic parts which then can be combined with a conventional barrel / receiver / bolt or slide to form the weapon. Plastic isn’t going to hold up for any sort of conventional ammo. Also, nothing plastic is going to work for the firing pin. There is going to be enough metal for it to be picked up by a metal detector.
    Secondly, there is already a law on the books which makes “undetectable” guns illegal. Look up the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. This was passed in the furor over the mostly plastic Glocks (and others) that started becoming popular.
    Other than these points, I agree with you. The Congressmen (… err “Congresspeople”) are all gonna do the great “Chicken Dance” wherein they amply demonstrate how “Busy” they are dealing with this “veddy veddy” serious issue (mostly to justify their insane salaries) and accomplish nothing in the long run other than create a big kerfluffle and lots of sound bites in the news. In other words, SNAFU & SOP.

  4. pouncer says:

    The whole debate seems to me founded on the idea that all 3D printers ONLY use “plastic” in the media. That a manufacturing set up might extrude metal, sugar*, glass, concrete, or some mix of the above doesn’t appear to enter the thinking, or at least resonate in the rhetoric. IF a useful weapon is “printed” in metal, it has all the detectability of any other metal weapon. If one wants a “plastic” or undetectable weapon, one can accomplish that by methods other** than “printing”.


    ** Study Malkovich’s methods of casting.

  5. pouncer says:

    Oops. Malkovich appeared and demonstrated how to cast a home-made plastic gun HERE:

    not using a sugar printer.

  6. John F. Hultquist says:

    Okra has pretty flowers, so someday I might try to grow a few.
    However, having eaten Okra, I have no plans to do so again.

    A 3D plastic gun has the same appeal.
    Should I find myself with nothing to do (not going to happen), I could make a gun in this manner and then see how many inches of pine board the bullets would penetrate. If I were the type, I wouldn’t take one to a gun fight. Besides, guns are plentiful and cheap.
    I have not read about making the ammunition or the powder. I’m not vying for a Darwin award.
    Much ado about not much.

  7. ossqss says:

    Okra/Ophra, I lose my appetite thinking about either one. Plastic gun? I would rather use a pointed stick with a sling….. Just sayin :-)

  8. Tom says:

    Sounds vaguely familiar from USSR era. Restrict the possession of typewriters?

    Okra? Boiled, fried, roasted, stewed, pickled, many ways to prepare in Cajun country.

  9. Larry Ledwick says:

    You could build a far better home made gun out of common materials from the local Home Depot and probably cheaper than to buy a 3D printer.

    There are several calibers where the chamber dimensions are very close to standard drill sizes. Any reasonably enterprising graduate from high school metal shop (yes I know they no longer teach that) could make one easily.

    Heck 1950’s New Your gang members made simple working zip guns out of nothing but some strong rubber bands or strips of inner tube rubber, a broken off car antenna (barrel and chamber) and lots of strong tape to keep it from blowing up. Add a bit of whittled wood for a handle a couple screws and modern epoxy glue and you could make one in an evening if motivated.

    If willing to invest a bit of time in engineering proper tooling and jigs, you could set up a factory to make them in less than a week of after work evenings.

    It is and always has been legal to make your own gun, so that line of attack is useless FUD. You just are limited in making them and selling them without the proper permits (if you are not a criminal)

    As noted above as soon as notice came out that there was going to be a prohibition of that one source distributing the plans a few thousand freedom of information advocates down loaded them and they are on line right now, including full engineering blue prints for high end guns like AR-15’s

  10. H.R. says:

    It’s all a distraction, anyhow. If our Congress of Stupids wasn’t busy showing their constituents their concerned faces and giving concerned speeches on 3-D printed guns (HORRORS!!!! Alarum! Alarum!), they would be in mortal danger of actually having to work on something they are required to do, such as a budget.Can’t have that now, can we?


  11. H.R. says:

    Aww, that Spit! was a little harsh. Let’s just edit that to, “I fart in their general direction.”

  12. Larry Ledwick says:

    From twitter:

    Kurtz @1_Musashi_1

    Do not go to this website and download the 3D printed gun instructions.
    #3DPrintedGuns #2a

    3:07 PM – 1 Aug 2018

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    Dear Larry,

    You will be pleased to know that i did not go to that link and download ALL the 3D printable gun descriptions in zip files, to include an AR-15, AR-10, Rugar 10-22, Colt 1911, Liberator, VZ-58, Beretta 92fs and the machining instructions pdf for an 80% AR-15 lower and save them all to an archive off site and not in my name….

    Sure I didn’t…. ;-)

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    These folks have several 3D guns, though at least some of them are toys.

    I found this 3D crossbow revolver interesting:

    Probably fairly useless and undamaging unless you tipped the arrows with toxin.

    They do point also to this gun that is shown with Remington Ammo, so I presume not a toy:

    Shows .357 Magnum ammo, so I presume it’s metal 3D printed ;-)

    Cat here, bag way over there… more cats showing up everywhere…

  15. Steven Fraser says:

    Anyone for a 3D, multi-shot, rubber band launcher?

  16. Simon Derricutt says:

    3D printed plastic has a bit of a problem with splitting into laminates under too-high stress. The joints between layers are a bit on the weak side. However, I can buy Carbon fibre reinforcement woven mat (I have some) and use epoxy resin to bind it into a tube around a PTFE former of the right size, and the result would likely be strong enough to withstand the pressures. If there’s too-large a wear problem, then maybe use a steel tube as the core with the Carbon-fibre reinforcement around it. Basically, therefore, use the 3D printer to make the moulds, and then use reinforced resin castings of those to get the finished article. I suspect even the firing-pin would last several cycles if made of just Carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, with a thin metal shell around the tip making it last longer. Rather than have an amazingly bulky pistol that only takes low-pressure cartridges, you could have a compact weapon with a rifled barrel that wouldn’t blow up on the second shot. Often a problem with the “Saturday Night Specials” made of metal, but not very well-made. Still, I haven’t done the calculations on pressures and strengths to produce a design, and don’t have any need for a gun anyway. Yet….

    Currently cheap 3D metal printing uses a sintering process, so you get shrinkage that needs to be allowed for, though the industrial versions use laser-sintering of powdered metal to produce precise sizes (Ti alloy powder is strong and light). Surface polish is a problem, though, so some finishing needed.

    Given how easy it is to make a gun, given that I do have a lathe and milling-machine, the 3D-printed versions don’t really make a lot of sense. Trying to stop them makes even less sense. It’s not as if criminals can’t obtain guns much more easily on the black market, or that guns actually used in crimes are weapons registered to the criminal. The 3D printed versions will thus only be printed by amateurs with no intention of robbing people, and the only real problem is that they will be dangerous to actually use even on a firing range and won’t be that accurate. May create a few Darwin awards. Still, AFAIK you can buy steel barrels as spare parts without restrictions, so there’s no good reason to use a risky plastic one except to be able to pass through metal-detectors. With the size of those plastic ones, though, they’d be noticed (or are you pleased to see me?). Short-range weapon because of the lack of accuracy, too.

    That cat was out of the bag a long time back, and they are difficult to herd. “Ghost” weapons have been possible for centuries for anyone with the skills, and I don’t see the 3D-printed versions being useful. I expect they’ll almost-all sit on a plinth as something to show off with. Why bother wasting time on legislation for something so impractical?

  17. Larry Ledwick says:

    3-D printing could also be used to make cores for use in lost wax casting to make metal parts by casting and just do some final metal finishing to bring them to tolerance.

    As you mentioned the only parts of the firearm which are stressed significantly are the barrel chamber and bolt face (assuming a long gun), and all those parts can be easily purchased over the counter, or could easily be made by any competent machinist out of things like a car axle.

    Rifling and drilling a long, straight hole are the two machining operations that are somewhat unique to gun making. They were masted by craftsmen in the 1800’s.

    For drilling long straight holes you have to use “gun drills”

  18. Larry Ledwick says:

    This is the sort of technology that all you have to do is see the state of the art product and you could create a similar one off for expedient manufacture with a bit of experimenting once you understand the basics of how the drills are designed.

    Gun drills are marvelously simple devices, which are designed to be guided and supported by the hole that they are drilling, and use high pressure lubricant flow to continuously flush chips out of the hole.

    Click to access gundrilling-guidelines.pdf

  19. H.R. says:

    What 3-D printing is really good for is prototyping in manufacturing. We were looking at 3-d printing of metal parts in 2016 in the steel hydraulic pipes biz that I retired from. We had (and have) one of the younger engineers bird-dogging the technology because the question is when the company is going to do it, not if the company is going to do it.

    High pressure hydraulic fittings need to be forged, so it takes a while to get new forging dies made for new fittings. Customers expect fast turnaround times so we would have some prototype fittings machined, at a high cost, so we could get started on making and testing the in-house tooling and fixturing we’d need to make the new hydraulic tube assemblies. Quite often, the customer’s required delivery date for a new tube assembly was within days of when the new fittings were scheduled to arrive, and we had to have tooling, fixtures, work instructions, and bend programs all worked out, tested and ready for when the new fittings hit the door.

    3-D metal printing would greatly speed up my old company’s process development time. First deliveries to the customer of new tube assembles would still be dependent on the forging and machining lead times, but 3-D printing would eliminate a host of internal costs and pressures and would allow rapid delivery of non-rated parts so the customer could at least do a fit check on their own prototype machines (heavy equipment, primarily excavators).

    For those unfamiliar with PM technology, I found this PDF of what seems to be a Manufacturing Engineering professor’s lecture on the Powder Metal production. The first two pages give an overview and then the presentation goes in depth in the following pages. It’s a better presentation than my professor gave when we covered the PM process. Just substitute 3D printer for the forming dies.

    here we go:

  20. H.R. says:

    Oops! I see Simon Derricutt was hitting much the same points as I just made. Ah well… only some of the two comments are pure overlap.

    Simon was posting while I was still typing, with a lunch break in the middle for a local farm bratwurst patty with habanero cheddar on a brioche bun. Yum!

  21. cdquarles says:

    Yum, okra.

    A stupidity of Congressmen, Yay.

    Interesting fact. 40 joules is enough energy to kill a human, but only if applied at the right time and place. Remember, human metabolism handles megajoules per day. When dealing with fatal traumatic injuries, it is the absorbed energy that counts at the time and at the place.

  22. cdquarles says:

    Simon, I’ll supply the answer to your why question. Control or power. You choose. It is the same reason why commerce gets banned. They don’t like it so they ban it, thus ensuring that ‘criminals’ engage in it. That this begets violence is both a bug and a feature.

  23. E.M.Smith says:

    @Steven Frasier:

    I made a non-3D one in college. Wood frame, multiple bands. Thumb lifts one off the back piece to fire it (loading, you put several on with small gap in order.)

    Took me about 2 hours IIRC…


    I’d actually thought of using carbon fiber… Mostly as re-enforcing for steel tube and receiver forming in a mold.


    In prior years before 3D printing, I’d figured bronze casting was the easiest way to go. Strength about the same as mild steel, but low melt point and fine casting detail. Would still need hand finishing, but even rough would be OK for most surfaces.

    Barrel would be subject to rapid wear, so might be better to make a steel one like traditional 1800s era black power guns

    Now, with modern CNC milling gear, everything but the barrel is just a bag of bits away (i.e. same problem as 3D printers but with “subtractive manufacture” instead of additive. Since at revolver ranges precision is not all that critical, using a smooth-bore steel tube would be “good enough”.

    It would be nearly trivial to make a .410 smooth-bore and shoot various loads from it, including slugs. If 28 gauge were more common I’d go for it instead.

    But as noted, it is far far easier to just walk over to the gun safe and take out a much better one ;-)

  24. H.R. says:

    LOL! I ran across this comment by zenoghost on Imgur while I was messing with my trailer pics.

    zenoghost1571 pts5 hr

    “3D printers should be banned. People might start printing plastic drinking straws.”

  25. E.M.Smith says:


    Oh! now it all becomes clear! The jihad du jour is against PLASTIC and these re PLASTIC guns!!! That’s why they don’t care about all the other ways of making guns!

    Heck, if people start making plastic guns, pretty soon they will be printing their own cups, straws, heck, maybe even, GASP! disposable shopping bags!

  26. H.R. says:

    When plastics are outlawed, only outlaws will have plastics.

  27. E.M.Smith says:

    I’d said CNC milling gear were far better and more of an issue. Then Terry Jackson gives the pointer and chasing it down:

    $2000 Open Source Hardware CNC mill designed for finishing gun receivers…

    From the homepage (top page):

    Ghost Gunner 2

    An open source hardware project

    Ghost Gunner is a general purpose CNC mill, built upon a large body of open source work, grbl g-code motion control, and popular microcontrollers.

    As a decent 1911-A or AR-15 can easily run $1000, if you want more than one gun, this could end up being an economical way to go. (Would need to price out the fiddly bits – sights, trigger, magazine, grips, screws, etc. to get a full on price / cost comparison).

    I could easily see a few guys each chipping in $500 and then share it to make 8 guns (long gun and pistol each) and each of them being about $1000 to $1500 ahead on the deal.

    Heck, I’ve spent that much on a round of car repairs (Tune up, AC service, smog check, brakes)… so I find myself wanting one even though I’d just set it in the corner and look at it. ( I already have too many guns and I’m reducing the inventory… I have a double bbl 12 Ga I bought ’cause it had nice rosewood stocks – used about 20 years ago – never fired it… so that kind of thing is what needs some thinking about why it is taking up space in the future RV…)

    Yet the idea of a little magic box that can turn out a 1911-A when I want / need one has a certain charm to it… Being a smith I’ve sporadically thought of trying my hand at gunsmithing.

  28. Larry Ledwick says:

    The 80% lowers can be machined for much less, there are commercial jigs and tooling kits and the 80% lower blanks available that allow you to do the remaining machine work with a $100-$150 router or a good quality drill press. Total cost for a couple completed AR-15 lowers would be less than $1000, plus the parts kits of springs and pins necessary to turn it into a functional lower receiver.

    I have seen the 80% lowers available for under $50

  29. Larry Ledwick says:

    An AR-15 upper goes for from $300 -$500 depending on the barrel length and choice of features.
    The basic parts kit (springs and pins etc. ) about $60

    If you buy the upper, parts kit and stock as one order it comes in about $450

  30. gallopingcamel says:

    Another example of the “Madness of Crowds”.

    I watched Chuck Shumer trying to make a big deal out of this on television. He looked really foolish. IMHO Shumer is an embarrassment…….does anyone take him seriously?

    Why spend a bunch of money to print an unreliable firearm that will fire less than 20 rounds before blowing up in your face. For much less you can buy a “Saturday Night Special” that will last a lifetime!

  31. Larry Ledwick says:

    The liberator pistol is patterned after an ultra cheep pistol dropped to resistance fighters in Europe in WWII. It was only expected to fire 2-3 times just enough to kill an enemy soldier and take his weapon and ammunition, or to use as a “get me out of here” gun that would stop pursuit long enough to get away.

    You could load up ultra low pressure rounds for them but as mentioned above with modern materials like E-glass or carbon fiber and epoxy you could hand layup a far better weapon with nothing but basic kitchen tools and a bit of patience.

    It is mostly just a loss leader to attract attention to 3-D printing in most cases. High strength devices can be made using laser sintering and similar methods that are spin offs of 3-D printing, on multi thousand dollar commercial equipment.

  32. Steve C says:

    Even here in Britain, this peaceable Brit has been offered a gun, in a pub, by a mate’s mate (a good few years ago, when things were much more peaceful here than they are now). If the s really starts hitting the f, things are not as quiescent as our Great Leaders want to believe, so why would I want to spend a small fortune – more than the cost of a “hot” gun – buying a 3D printer to turn out an inferior product? Hell, I can blow myself up with almost no kit at all …

    Re. mass nouns, what crime is described by the following situation? – ‘Two crows sitting on a tree branch.’ (Easy!)

  33. Simon Derricutt says:

    Stave C – that’s attempted murder…. Alternatively, it’s a natural ageing process (more crow’s feet).

  34. Steve C says:

    @Simon – Right first time! ;-D

  35. E.M.Smith says:

    A kid, some wood, 2 pipes, 2 hose clamps, a shotgun:

    Yeah, that easy. Almost all his time spent making the wood look good…

  36. Larry Ledwick says:

    That is essentially the weapon that Philippine insurgents used during WWII, just two pieces of pipe, one o of 3/4 inch pipe for the barrel and chamber and a second of 1″ pipe with a pipe cap and a screw for a firing pin. Don’t even need the stock.

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