Guns: Out of the Bottle, Like it or Not

by Thomas Knapp
Guns: Out of the Bottle, Like it or Not

I saw my first “homemade gun” when I was a kid. Older kids — teenagers — would save up the 4th of July fireworks known (for obvious reasons) as “bottle rockets” and play “war” with them: Stick the firework in a glass soda bottle (this was back when soda came in glass bottles that one paid a deposit on and could return for a refund of that deposit … yeah, I’m old), point it at the “enemy,” shoot.

Apparently these “homemade guns” weren’t very dangerous. I don’t remember hearing of any serious injuries in the “bottle rocket wars,” though I don’t doubt there were some, somewhere. But other “homemade guns” certainly existed. Harlan Ellison describes “zip guns” made from car antennas or coffee percolator tubing in his non-fiction New York City gang life memoir, Memos from Purgatory (I wonder if Ellison ever gets the credit he deserves for foreshadowing Hunter S. Thompson’s breakout book, Hell’s Angels?). I once saw a demonstration of a “one-shot field-expedient shotgun” made from an old Sears catalog, a rubber band, a nail and a shotgun shell.

All of this is just to establish that there’s nothing new about non-traditional manufacture of firearms by individuals. Ever since we’ve had guns, we’ve had homemade guns.

3D printing just makes it easier. A LOT easier. Easier all the time.

It’s only been about a year since Cody Wilsonand Defense Distributed debuted the “Liberator,” a single-shot, .380-caliber, 3D-printed pistol, releasing the plans for it “into the Internet wild.”

Within weeks, as Andy Greenberg of Wired reports, enthusiasts were designing and producing multi-shot .38 pistols. Recently Japanese freedom fighter Yoshitomo Imura was arrested with (allegedly) a 3D-printed six-shot revolver. It appears that fully automatic weapons (or conversion parts for existing guns) are out there for the printing.

It’s time to repeat, with emphasis, what Cody Wilson told the world a year ago when he rolled the Liberator out:

“Gun control” is over.

It’s done.

It’s as dead as music copyright, and for the same reason: Advancing technology has taken the matter out of the hands of government regulators and their privileged industry monopolists.

Nobody has to like it.

That’s how it is whether anyone likes it or not.

Personally, I like it. If there are going to be guns — and there ARE going to be guns — I’d rather they were easily available to regular people than only to state military and law enforcement agents, violent criminals (but I repeat myself) and those who curry state privilege. In America, the statistics seem to indicate that violent crime goes down, not up, in environments of easier gun availability and fewer legal restrictions.

“An armed society is a polite society,” wrote science fiction master Robert A. Heinlein in 1942. That makes sense to me, but even if he was wrong, I’d rather go armed than unarmed in an impolite society. Everyone with access to modern technology — not just in the United States but everywhere — now has that choice.

A new, free society is building itself in the shell of the dying authoritarian society. Technologies of abundance, with all those technologies imply, are an inescapable feature of that new, free society. The sooner you begin availing yourself of your continuously expanding options, the faster and less violent the transition will be.

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  1. But a gun is worthless without ammunition, and for that you need propellant and primer, the latter in particular being hard to make at home. Also, I think the only durable firearm is a metal one, though a plastic one you could print might be good for a hundred rounds or so.

  2. Molecule makers=3d printing at a micro-level. Such will be able to produce any compound or chemical you want–from mega-cheap vitamins to ANY drug medical or “recreational” to primers, propellant explosive etc. All those things are mostly re-arrangements of commonplace molecules.

    Also advanced, very durable and strong ceramics would be a good medium to use to create firearms and easier to print than metal.

  3. Rob,

    Good point. It’s one we don’t notice much in the US since ammunition is, in most cases, not subject to anything like the sales restrictions that guns are.

    But there are workarounds that actually make 3D printed plastic guns more, not less, viable.

    Numerous substances that can be found in any home — or manufactured or acquired with relative ease, like good old-fashioned gunpowder — can be used as propellant and direct ignition using spark, percussion or electricity isn’t rocket science (OK, actually it is, but it’s very old, settled and well-understood rocket science).

    I predict that the “next big thing” in 3D-printed guns will be revolvers that electrically ignite some fairly common substance to propel small metal balls — ball bearings you can buy at the hardware store, lead balls you can melt and mold at home, whatever — at fairly low muzzle velocity and with fairly low chamber pressure.

    The owner will be able to pre-load the multiple cylinders in the chamber with “powder and ball.” Or heck, pre-load multiple cylinders and just switch in another when one is empty.

    Yes, that sounds kind of cumbersome, but remember: We’re already talking about people who buy 3D printers and manufacture guns on them. Primitive ammo that frees them from the “official” supply chain isn’t a giant leap.

  4. If it becomes possible to “print” explosives and pharmaceuticals, this will bring about changes hard to imagine.

    The old type of revolver with a front-loaded cylinder would probably the best gun to make. In fact, Remington were already making them with easily detachable cylinders back in the 1850s. It only took seconds to take out the empty cylinder and slip in a new pre-loaded one. However, if I was to start making firearms from scratch, I think I’d be investing in a lathe and metal parts, rather than a 3D printer in their present state.

    The main obstacle to people arming themselves in countries where guns are outlawed is the draconian penalties they face. The minimum for any kind of firearm in Britain is five years. What’s more, stun guns are legally classified as firearms and carry the same sentence.

  5. How good the 3d printed firearms will be is debatable – but they will get better.

    How far will technology go?

    Will we get to the stage that with “dirt and sunlight” (i.e. basic matter and basic energy) nanobots (or whatever) can build just about anything?

    I do not know – but it the impact of possible new technologies has been debated for decades.

    And certainly (even if the impact is less than is hoped) the new technologies are to be welcomed.

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