3D Printed Guns Should Be Legal, But Are They Safe?

3D Printed Gun

There is an ongoing debate in the news related to 3D printed guns. This argument started years ago — when Cody Wilson first shot his 3D printed gun in 2013. Once Wilson had developed the plans for his gun, he wanted to share them with the world. He planned to do this through his company called Defense Distributed.

His goal was to create a website where people could download and share blueprints for do-it-yourself gun manufacturing. Once the federal government caught wind of this, they immediately shut down the website based on export regulations to censor technical information. (Yes, that sounds like a load of crap to me too.)

Over the last few years, Defense Distributed and the U.S. State Department have battled back and forth over the legality of 3D printed guns. However, in July, the U.S. State Department settled a legal case and allowed Defense Distributed to go ahead and release the 3D printing plans online.

The problem is once this issue was settled, 19 states sued the State Department and Defense Distributed in an attempt to stop the release of the blueprints. As of the time of this writing, a judge has issued a temporary restraining order blocking the publication of the blueprints.

What’s All the Fuss?

As the name implies, a 3D printed gun is a gun made mostly of plastic from a 3D printer.

Now, the key word is “mostly” because the gun still requires a firing pin and a piece of metal.

The purpose of the piece of metal is to ensure the gun complies with the U.S. Undetectable Firearms Act.

Essentially, it is a federal offense to “manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer or receive” a firearm capable of defeating airport metal detection. However, I realize most criminals probably don’t care about following the law.

Now, you may be wondering what the big deal is about 3D printed guns and why some people are so against them. Well, even though the gun requires a firing pin, you could technically hide the firing pin and the small piece of steel separately. Then you could carry the gun and walk right through security checkpoints.

And since these guns are homemade, they don’t have a serial number. They are basically “ghost guns.” Also, people wouldn’t have to go through a background check to get a 3D printed gun like they would if they were buying a regular firearm from a retail location. Anyone could simply print one in the privacy of their own home.

The reality is a 3D printed firearm is definitely not the easiest way to get a gun. Plus, the majority of criminal lowlifes aren’t going to have the means (or the patience) to 3D print a gun.

What I mean is if a responsible gun owner wanted to build a firearm, they could simply go the 80% receiver route. In other words, simply buy a receiver that is about 80% of a working receiver. You only need to use a drill press or hand tool to finish the remaining 20%.

Finally, 3D printed guns aren’t dependable and can easily fail. The plastic simply isn’t strong enough to withstand the explosion caused by a firing bullet.

In fact, many people have tried to develop plastic guns only to have them explode upon firing. So, while I love guns and fully support 3D printed guns, they’re just not quality or sophisticated enough at this time.

I have no doubt they will be in the future. But right now, I wouldn’t trust one with my life if someone was kicking down my front door at 3 a.m.

What’s your take on 3D printed guns? Should they be legal? Would you shoot one? Share your answer in the comment section.

Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and New York Times bestselling author of Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life. To get a free copy of his book, visit

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (15)

  1. When I was a kid you could order a rifle or a pistol through the USPS delivered to your door with no checks, no tracking and no ID. Now we have all of these qualifications we have to make before we can buy a gun and there are still criminals that get them anyway. What is the point of all of the gun laws if they don’t apply to the criminals? Legal gun owners are not the problem and never have been. Catch, Prosecute and Sequester the criminals and the gun issue will solve itself.

  2. A few key facts here are though the firearm may be rendered undetectable to metal detectors via omitting the metal plate (which I know is illegal), you cannot 3D print ammo. You also only have ONE shot with such a thing before you are pounced upon. I don’t see this as a realistic means of anything. Yes it is kind of cool but highly impracticable for ANY scenario. I don’t see criminals rolling up somewhere with 30 of these in a bag. Sorry, nice try.

  3. i think adding steel filings to the plastic would solve the problem of being undetectable. Also might solve the strength issues as well

  4. A slight error in the article. While you could hide the firing pin (a nail), the only way to legally print this gun is to: 1) print the hollow handle first, 2) permanently epoxy 8 oz (I think) of steel into the handle, 3) print the rest of the gun. Any deviation from this procedure makes the gun illegal. So, no, you cannot remove the steel to hide the gun from detectors.

  5. I think it is pretty obvious what is going on here. The gun is useless as is. However it is a tool to test out the government system on new technology.If the government sees a threat to itself, it will work to remove your right to it. This is an attempt to shake out the system for when the technology is workable before real money is invested . Like the arm brace that was given a green light and then shot down after all the investment and expense of manufacturing.

  6. Should the plans be legal? Yes. Would I shoot one? Yep. ( from a vise with a long string). Making these firearms, and being able to make these firearms are two different things. Access to the types of polymer that would allow the thing to fire more than once is not within the perview of Joe Blow criminal. Besides, the cost of a good printer and good polymer is waaay more than a couple days of meth. Ain’t gonna happen. If it was going to happen, bad guys would already have CNC machines and be making their own high quality firearms. That whole argument is just silly. At least for right now. Same thing with the “ghost gun” argument. IMO that is a path from the right to sell stuff, and on the left, just another way to cause panic. Truth be told, if the gov’t wants to knock on your door, they will. It’s just as easy to track 80% lowers and billet aluminium as serialized firearms. It’s also just as easy to tell a curious G-Man that you sold this, that or the other and don’t have it anymore. “Yes, officer. Please, by all means, tear apart my house. There is clearly nothing here of the kind you are asking about.” My thought: Vote. Stay active, but keep your affairs to yourself. Head down, eyes up.

  7. Gun control is all that they want. Over 70 years ago, I built a .410 shotgun out of a piece of 3/8″ gas pipe, some oak, rubber bands and a finishing nail.In the late 40s, NYC zootsuiters were making zip guns that fired .22 shorts. Next they will be wanting to register turret lathes and vertical milling machines.

  8. Unfortunately the author didn’t give the WHOLE story, namely the fact that while a judge has blocked the FREE distribution of the plans for the 3D printed guns on DEFCAD, he did NOT block the COMMERCE of them, meaning, for a small “donation” one can still download the plans!

    The plans that are available are not just the single shot Liberator that the people in charge are worried about, there are also plans for AR lowers among other things, which are perfectly safe as polymer/plastic lowers have been being produced successfully for years.

  9. Would I trust my life and health to a plastic gun? No. The reality is that these weapons have a very limited life span. How many times can you fire it before it structurally fails or worse, blows up in your hand? They are of limited use by anyone law abiding or not. I can’t see the criminal elements in our society spending the money for the 3D printer and the supplies needed to produce a one or two shot wonder gun, when they can purchase a fully automatic sub-machine gun for a lot less on the black market (or the previous administration’s gun distribution network). It’s a lot of complaining and whining over something that just doesn’t have that much potential. The legal battle is a waste of tax payer money and a waste of the court’s time. Tell the State’s AG’s to go tilt at another windmill.

  10. Considering flight 93 of 911 fame was taken over by terrorist with box knives I fail to make the connection with the idea of the gun being detected by airport security. We have a common law right to build or own firearms for our own personal use in any manner that we believe prudent. Distributing the plans for building a gun is not any different that publishing a book that tells you how to make a nuclear bomb. It is perfectly, legal & lawful. So the law suits are frivolous at best. It alludes to paranoia from ignorant people. It is a 1st Amendment issue which I believe will be defended by the SCOTUS if it ever gets that far.

  11. this is all about GUN control. very clearly, main reason is that these 3D printed guns can be used like the liberator handguns. once they ban all firearms. use it for 1 or 2 shots to get better weapons for revolt.
    what many do not do or is stated. look at the henry survival rifle in 22lr. the barrel is a barrel liner with plastic coating to make it look like a heavier barrel.
    the ony way these printed guns has any chance of real use is to use a barrel liner and a metal breach and metal firing pin. many plastic guns are made the same way, a few metal parts that are held in place with plastics. yea maybe a bit stronger plastic yet still the same. anything can be used with a few metal parts can be made in to a gun with a few metal pieces.
    the reason they are screaming about 3D printed guns is because of ther ignorance of any real facts or knowledge of firearms. if they had even a clue they would laugh at all of this.

  12. In my mind these printed guns are as good as what we used to call “Saturday Night Special”. I would put them in the category of “Throw Away guns” As a retired machinist of 46 years I’ve worked with more kinds of plastics than most people. I can’t even begin to imagine how a printed gun could possibly be safe to shoot for any extended period of time. They certainly wouldn’t be invisible to anything that detects metal if it were loaded with ammo.
    I wouldn’t want one, even it was free.

  13. I’m confused now because the court fight was NOT about gun control but about making the plans for this gun available to anyone on the internet. It’s a 1st Amendment issue, with 2nd Amendment infringement as a consequence. Essentially, this is why the Dept. of State lost their case. Making guns at home, making undetectable guns, and gun ownership is all already decided law. So, the question was, can the State Dept./Government block the free expression of this design, by way of internet posting and availability, under our Constitution? Thankfully the court said no and the government/State Dept. dropped their case. Now each states AG is trying to do the same thing. But in my opinion, they have no standing and the designs are already out in the web-sphere to be freely shared among internet users, so blocking Cody and infringing on his 1st A rights is a moot.

  14. I agree with this 100%, I also feel that a bump stock is stupid, because it is very hard to get the lead where you want it to be.
    Regardless to my opinions, they are protected under law and should be legal. Just because I hate Broccoli, doesn’t mean it should not be grown or sold.

  15. Should they be legal? Absolutely, because, like so many other items and actions we have criminalized, there is no overwhelming argument for it’s being illegal. And that’s setting all the 1st and 2nd Amendment issues aside.

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