Can 3D-Printed Guns be Detected by TSA?

3D printed revolver confiscated by TSA

Gun control proponents, including some in the press, experienced a couple of embarrassing setbacks last week, thanks to a report from the Transportation Safety Administration, which was covered by CBS News, and an editorial in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin relating to an anti-gun-rights initiative in Washington state.

3D printed revolver confiscated by TSA
This 3D revolver and five rounds of .22 Magnum ammunition were detected by the TSA at an airport in 2016. But critics say these guns are “invisible” to metal detectors. (Image courtesy TSA)

In the midst of last week’s hysteria over 3D plastic guns, CBS News reported that, over the past two years, the Transportation Safety Administration had intercepted “thousands of guns” at security checkpoints, including “a handful (that) were created with a 3D printer.” The story was accompanied by an image showing a tiny five-shot revolver and the five .22 Magnum cartridges that were detected. The gun looks like a knock-off of a North American Arms mini-revolver.

CBS quoted TSA Assistant Administrator Michael Bilello, who said in a statement, “TSA Officers are trained and on the lookout for 3D guns. We have proven detection capabilities and screening protocols in place. In the world of airport and aviation security, ‘a gun is a gun.’”

That rather debunks an argument in a Seattle Times editorial, along with similar assertions in other media, that 3D guns—also called “ghost guns”—are “invisible to metal detectors.” If that were true, these plastic guns rounded up by TSA would have gotten through the security checkpoints, would they not?

The revolver shown was detected in August 2016, virtually two years before the brouhaha erupted last week over the planned release of, and quick court action against, 3D printing technology and blueprints by a Texas-based firm, Defense Distributed, founded by Cody Wilson. A federal judge has schedule another hearing on the matter later this week in Seattle.

CBS further reported that “in December 2016 and January 2018, 3D-printed parts of so-called assault-style weapons known as “lower receivers” were found in carry-on bags at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.” That would seem to rebut comments made by perennial anti-gun Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who claimed that “undetectable” AR15 rifles are “coming to a theater near you; coming to a school near you” in a press event aired by ABC News.

While all of this was going on, a newspaper in far south-central Washington State said in an editorial that a controversial gun control initiative aimed at stripping young adults of their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms should be kept off the November ballot.

The newspaper editorial noted that Secretary of State Kim Wyman “had concerns about whether the format of the petitions was constitutional.” State law requires that petitions include a “readable, full, true and correct” version of the initiative printed on the reverse side, the newspaper said. That was not the case, however, resulting in two separate legal challenges, one filed by gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb, a Washington state resident and voter, and the other by the National Rifle Association.

The Union Bulletin editorial board observed, “In the end, it seems, at least to us, the law was not strictly followed in the way signatures were gathered. It’s likely the state Supreme Court will be the final arbiter… The law is in place for a reason. It ensures the process leading up to approval of an initiative (making law) is followed so all parties are treated equally and fairly. It is, or at least should be, about doing things correctly.

“Again, we don’t believe the law was followed in the collecting of signatures for I-1639,” the newspaper said. “The initiative should be disqualified.”

Not that it matters, perhaps, but the gun prohibition lobbying group behind the initiative is complaining via email fund raisers, that the NRA has contributed $100,000 to defeating the measure. It hasn’t occurred to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility to also report that it has raised and spent more than $3 million so far on its gun control campaign. Indeed, according to data from the state Public Disclosure Commission, the Initiative 1639 campaign has raised more than $4 million in cash and “in-kind” contributions.

Evidently, anti-gunners think they’re at an unfair disadvantage when they can only outspend the NRA by a 40-to-1 margin. According to gun rights activists now preparing for a fight this fall, that’s called “hypocrisy.”

What do you think of 3D printed guns? How do you think the courts will rule? Are you planning to download plans from Defense Distributed when they become available? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (24)

  1. Zip guns have been around for a long time. Remember the Bronson series “Death wish”?The easily compounded 2 part WMD from Walmart that was first used in WW1. Explosive detonator can be had from most newer cars. So your worried about a very limited use and fairly technical and expensive to make item.

  2. I can’t believe anyone could print a functional revolver that small. The mechanism to rotate the cylinder, if made of plastic, would be bulky if not impossible to operate properly. And the cylinder shown with those thin walls would certainly not handle .22 magnum pressures. If that really was a printed revolver, it must be a dummy never intended to fire. Very possibly TSA had one made just to scare people.

  3. I had a plastic gun when I was a child… it was made by Mattel. I don’t know enough yet about these printer versions to have an opinion. As long as we have the technology to keep them from getting into places where they shouldn’t be getting into, life goes on. They could be made from Erector Sets or Legos for all I care because I’m sticking with what time has proven to be reliable…

  4. The “LAW” was changed after “9/11” with the introduction into the Federal Government by a New Agency of Law. The Department of Homeland Security in 25 November 2002. “We The People” wanted and told our Elected Representatives in Congress to FIX the Terrorism Problem. Which THEY (i.e. the US Congress) DID. The FACT that nobody Thought Through the Long-Term Ramifications of Creating the Department of Homeland Security and the Powers needed to effectively run the DHS was who’s fault?/! The US Government, or “We The People”…

  5. Simply follow constitutional law. The Constitution also includes the ability to change the law. Lets all stop the emotional rhetoric and use our heads. By that I mean that recent gun laws are going too far to stop or hamper gun ownership, our Constitutional right. Now lets get back to solving real problems like: Opioid epidemic/deaths, motor vehicle deaths, infectious disease, diabetes, smoking, all killing more Americans by far, and there are many higher priorities to spend limited financial resources on. Get real.

  6. “NR” (i.e. Nile Red) is a Identification Dye used in Plastics, that “Fluorescent’s” when a Special Light is applied to the Plastic. Been out since at least 2013. Virtually ALL Plastics and Plastic Products have “NR” in there composition…

  7. When they start printing casings, projectiles, and propellant, then it may become an issue to me. I’m not sure, but there may be enough metallic component to gunpowder to make the whole issue moot.
    Personally, I wouldn’t hit a dog in the ass with any firearm made on a printer. I dont fly anymore, so why bother. All my traditionally made weapons have been working just fine for me for decades. And if some poor sap attempts to do me, or mine harm with one, or jack my car, or hell, anything. They’ll be on the receiving end of a non-3d printed weapon. I believe, I would come out on top.

    As always
    Carry on

  8. It does prove that no laws will ever stop firearms from being had by anyone who wants one. Years ago plastic gun hype was even in the movies. James Bonds , MAN with the golden gun ?? If I remember correctly. Had one to smuggle in to commit murder.
    What’s needed is not control of guns , it’s criminal control that’s needed. Evil will always find away to kill , put god back in schools , make it so kids have a parent at home to teach right from wrong. Church with Bible teaching helps also. Plastic guns are there and there to stay. Three hunks of pipe will make s gun as well ban plumbing also. Where does it end.

  9. I think 3d printed guns are great if used as a mockup to proof a design, firing one on the other hand, is in my opinion about as smart as getting into a knife fight with a plastic knife. who would use a 3d printer, that costs well over $2000 to make a gun that will fire once or twice before a catastrophic failure when for $2000 you can buy Cody Wilson’s Ghostgunner open source CNC mill and make real guns out of real metal. if you are looking to get them past security, clearly its not going to work so why not have something useful. design your gun, make a mockup with a 3d printer, make your improvements then program it into the open source Ghostgunner files, and upload them to the internet for people to download. the idea of being frightened by a gun that is just as likely to blow up in your face as to actually work is ridicules. right not without a 3d printer, I can drill out a block of plastic and make a gun, so if some is bound and determined to make a gun from plastic, how can you stop them? what we need is a little less panic, and a little more common sense!

  10. Printer and stuff to feed it too expensive, end product not durable enough, think I’ll pass, at least for the time being

    1. Dear Spencer,
      You must not be a machinist. A good machinist can make any part of a gun on a CNC mill, internal and external threads too. As a journeyman machinist for 43 years, I have done it and do it regularly.

    2. Sure you can, we do it all the time. It’s called thread milling.
      I’d rather mill a large thread on an CNC machine than try and push a 2″ tap through stainless steel by hand.

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