By: Robert Davis

After a multi-year lawsuit with the Department of State, Defense Distributed, a nonprofit company from Austin, Texas, was on the verge of publishing schematic designs online of how to make single-shot handguns and a variety of other firearms, including AR-10s and AR-15s, with a 3-D printer.

A federal judge, however, “granted a temporary restraining order … just hours before the documents were expected to be published online,” The Washington Post reported in early August. Nevertheless, the news media has been hysterical over the idea of so-called “ghost guns.” So here are five facts gun owners should know about 3-D guns:

1. The original ruling did not distort the First Amendment.
Much of the hoopla made by the left over 3-D printed guns focuses on the court case itself and Defense Distributed’s reliance on the First Amendment to make their case. The case challenged a policy under the Obama administration which regulated the information needed to make a gun under the International Treaty in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The settlement between the Second Amendment Foundation (who represented Defense Distributed) and the Department of State focused solely on the passage of information needed to print a gun, not the gun itself, as a matter of free speech.

“…Lines are becoming blurry, with commentators bouncing between the First and Second Amendments,” Matthew Larosiere wrote this week in the Washington Examiner. “Let us make one thing clear: This issue has everything to do with the First Amendment, and if we continue to confuse it with the Second Amendment, we will damage both.
This entire controversy stems from one thing: The State Department’s forced removal of digital files from Defense Distributed (DefDist)’s website. There was no seizure of guns, no involvement of the ATF, and no physical stockpiles to speak of. The resulting lawsuit was one entirely predicated on the government’s unconstitutional restraint of DefDist’s speech.”

“To me, [the original] ruling is remarkable. It’s common sense, but that’s obviously not the case everywhere,” Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association told Gunpowder Magazine.

2. Homemade guns are legal and have been for years.
“It has always been legal for someone to make their own gun in this country,” Dave Kopel, adjunct professor of constitutional law at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law, told Gunpowder Magazine. “There’s no change there. Putting aside the Defense Distributed issue, there have been many sites that host this sort of information for years.”

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) website:
“A license is not required to make a firearm solely for personal use. However, a license is required to manufacture firearms for sale or distribution. The law prohibits a person from assembling a non–sporting semiautomatic rifle or shotgun from 10 or more imported parts, as well as firearms that cannot be detected by metal detectors or x–ray machines. In addition, the making of an NFA firearm requires a tax payment and advance approval by ATF.”

3. The legality of online designs won’t result in a huge surge in criminals making their own guns.
The most economical way to print a gun is to use thermoplastics, but doing so makes the firearm as much of a danger to the user as it is to everyone else. Metal 3-D printing does exist and has proven to make safe, working firearms, however, it is extremely costly and therefore highly unlikely that criminals will start printing their own guns in mass – which they could be doing already if they wanted to.

4. 3-D guns could make all gun control a moot point.
It’s still too early to tell, but 3-D guns could potentially end the gun control movement altogether. The largest hurdle the gun control crowd faces at this point is how to regulate the printing of guns without violating the Constitution.

As John R. Lott wrote in a Fox News op-ed just after the original settlement was announced, “3-D printers make the already extremely difficult job of controlling access to guns practically impossible. The government is not going to be able to ban guns, and limits on the size of bullet magazines will be even more laughable than before.”

5. The gun population increase won’t be significant.
Another horse the left likes to beat in the gun control debate is that there are too many guns in the U.S. today, and allowing private citizens greater access to information on how to print their own will drastically increase that number.

First of all, as we’ve noted, people have been able to make their own guns for years if they really wanted to. Secondly, 3-D printing a gun is neither cost-effective (it’s often more expensive than simply buying a firearm from a store) nor efficient (3-D guns are not as safe, in general, either).

“Even after the high cost, the end result is not as effective as a conventionally produced firearm,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation reports. “… Manufacturers invest millions of dollars into research, design and testing to produce firearms. These manufacturers produce firearms that function reliably, in the toughest conditions, and are made to withstand the demanding conditions of performance, including tens of thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch created from firing a round…Quite literally, the lives of gun owners are dependent on firearms working every time they are needed. Even if individuals spend the time and considerable sums of money to 3D print, NSSF does not encourage this practice in the home.”

Robert Davis is a general assignment reporter for Gunpowder Magazine. Contact him with comments or tips at

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