Gun Concern: When Will 3-D Weapons Be Able to Fire Real Bullets?


The shootings in Newtown, Ct., and the intensified debate over gun control have stoked concerns that inexpensive and increasingly popular printers and other digital fabrication tools might make access to weapons even easier, reports the New York Times. “We now have 3-D printers that can manufacture firearms components in the basement,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY). “It's just a matter of time before a 3-D printer will produce a weapon capable of firing bullets.”

A 3-D printer builds an object layer by layer in three dimensions, usually in plastic. To outlaw weapons made with them, Israel wants to extend an existing law, set to expire this year, that makes weapons that are undetectable by security scanners, like a printed all-plastic gun, illegal. There are major technical obstacles to creating an entire gun on a 3-D printer, not the least of which is that a plastic gun would probably melt or explode upon firing a single bullet, making it about as likely to kill the gunman as the target. For gun-control advocates, the real worry regarding 3-D printers and other machines is what the future might bring in the way of technological advances. “Down the road it's going to be a big concern,” said Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “We don't know how that's going to come about and don't know what technology.”

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