The technology media stirred up recently when an Arfcommer named HaveBlue 3D printed an AR-15 lower receiver and successfully tested it. He used a modified model downloaded from cncguns.com. For those of you who are not technologically inclined, let me catch you up on what this means. It is now possible to download some files, buy a used 3D printer, and let a machine print out a plastic AR-15 lower receiver while you eat a sandwich and watch the show. Why is this interesting? The lower receiver is the only part of a gun that BATFE considers a firearm. Normally, when you purchase a firearm from a licensed FFL dealer, they do a background check to make sure you are not a felon or mentally unstable. Local and state laws not withstanding, you can buy the rest of the parts with virtually no restrictions. While I’m sure it wasn’t as easy as clicking File and Print, this does raise interesting questions for firearms enthusiasts.
Legally, the laws on printing out a plastic lower receiver are a little fuzzy. I’m not a lawyer by any means, and my legal knowledge extends solely from watching reruns of Law and Order, so don’t take my explanation as set-in-stone legal truth. However, from what I gathered, you can indeed build yourself a lower receiver for personal use. The problems come in when you want to sell them. As soon as the BATFE believes you are in the business and didn’t bother to get a firearms manufacturing license, you will spend the foreseeable future in a small room wearing an orange jumpsuit. Previously, home-built AR-15s only existed in the world of garage CNC machining and the like. With 3D printing becoming more common, the cost of materials and expertise required begin to decrease, which means anyone with the drive and determination to manufacture their own AR-15 could do so with comparably low overhead. While the cost of just going out and buying a stripped lower is much lower than printing your own, the ability to step around potential laws and print a firearm off the books most likely has federal gun regulators raising their eyebrows. In my opinion, if using a 3D printer to make your own functional weapons becomes commonplace, we will no doubt see the laws change away from the favor of gun enthusiasts and the grip on firearms legislation with tighten even further.
If you decide to print your own AR lower at home, do yourself a favor and try not to mention it to the world. Just because you harbor no ill intent, can legally own a gun, and are not trying to set up a clandestine firearms manufacturing plant, does not mean you will not run into trouble. Remember that there are people out there whom have no other purpose in life other than to make firearms illegal for everyone except the government. They will look for any reason to press their agenda and homegrown weapons would be a nice hunk of leverage. That aside, I have nothing but respect and admiration for HaveBlue, since he managed to do something fascinating with some good American ingenuity and a hunk of plastic. Who knows, it could be the beginning of making AR-15s more affordable for law-abiding shooters—which is always a good thing!