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OMG!! With nothing but MACHINE TOOLS, STEEL and PARTS you can make a GUN!!

'3D printed plastic gun' man talks more rubbish

By Lewis Page, 2 Oct 2014

Analysis Not so amazingly, it turns out that with nothing more than a lot of manufactured parts and some specialised machinery, you can make a working rifle. This "news" comes to us because a man famous for pretending to make working guns from 3D-printed plastic is selling such machinery - which does rather prove that his 3D printed plastic guns were indeed rubbish, and that you should take everything he says with a large pinch of salt.

The person in question, of course, is Cody Wilson, who caused a huge media pant-wetting with the "Liberator" 3D printed plastic "gun" - which was barely any more effective than holding up a cartridge in a pair of pliers and banging the cap with a centrepunch.

Wilson's latest offering is the "Ghost Gunner", a small CNC (computer-controlled) milling machine. In the USA, gun control laws - naturally enough - attempt to regulate and control trade in actual gun parts while still permitting unrestricted trade in pieces of metal. The way this has panned out is that you can take a billet of steel and go quite a long way towards turning it into - let us say - a stripped AR-15 lower receiver, and it will remain just a piece of metal which you can send via post, Fedex etc to anyone you like. The AR-15 is a widely favoured rifle design: it was specifically created by the famous Eugene Stoner to be highly adaptable and able to accept many different kinds of barrel, ammo etc, and as a result it is very popular among custom gunsmiths and gun-building enthusiasts. It is also carried in various forms by the US military and various other armed forces.

If you take such a possibly-not-a-gun-part, possibly-a-gun-part pre-manufactured piece - status depending how much of the work has been done, and on the judgement of the feds - and pop it into a Ghost Gunner connected to a PC with the right software, the machine can mill out the remaining bits of metal that are not required (it can't do the job starting from just a block of steel, and it isn't clear that it works on any available product acknowledged by the feds as definitely not being a gun part - buyer beware).

Then all you need is a whole lot of other specialist parts - springs, trigger, safety/selector, hammer, various pins etc - and you can, if you know what you're doing, assemble a complete lower receiver. Then all you need is an upper receiver, a barrel, bolt, buttstock and various other specialist items and - again, assuming you are a competent armourer - you can build a complete, functioning AR-15 assault or battle rifle*. Most of these parts can be purchased relatively easily online in America: the feds focus mainly on lower receivers because they are the only part of an AR-15 that is potentially illegal to make or have (if configured for fully-automatic fire).

And there you have it - by spending thousands of dollars, learning some complicated skills and doing some machining, you have obtained a functioning semi- or even, potentially, fully-automatic** weapon and you didn't have to comply with any pesky gun controls. Wow! Big stuff, eh?

Not really. It would be so much easier and cheaper to go to one of the great majority of US states where there are no local "assault-weapons" laws and buy a proper, working, factory made AR-15 of your choice from a private owner or dealer not operating under a federal firearms licence. Such a sale is perfectly routine (some studies estimate that 40 per cent of US gun sales are of this type), requires no background check or records, and of course owning such a weapon is perfectly legal for an American. Provided you aren't a convicted felon or otherwise registered as unsuitable to buy guns by the FBI - like nearly all Americans - it's even easier. You can just go and buy your AR-15 from a normal federally-licenced dealer such a Wal-Mart, in most states without any other restriction than the FBI database check.

There are a couple of minor issues. Your Ghost Gunner AR-15 could potentially be capable of fully automatic fire and so illegal under US law, but that isn't the big deal everyone thinks it is. There isn't any great difference in deadliness between a legal semi-auto AR-15 and an illegal post-1986 full-auto one, and anyway it's fairly simple to alter a legal one to full auto - you don't need to cock about milling a whole new lower receiver to do it.

Yes, a Ghost Gunner AR-15 receiver needn't have a manufacturer's serial number on it, but there's no comprehensive firearms register in the USA so this means basically nothing: anyway it's miles easier to remove the number from a normal receiver than mill a whole new one.

Analysis

So why all the hype? Why do we have dunderheads writing of "a semi-automatic weapon with no serial number, obtained with no background check, no waiting period or other regulatory hurdles. Some gun control advocates call it a 'ghost gun'."

But there isn't any actual requirement for background checks or waiting periods or any other hurdle to stop you buying a gun in the USA! Gun control people in America (and indeed gun advocates, a lot of the time) usually prefer to talk of some other USA where these things are required, but it doesn't exist and there seems to be no realistic prospect that it ever will.

Why do people want gun controls? Well, guns kill people, right? Especially evil "assault weapons", like the AR-15.

American? Been shot dead? Was it an accident? NO. Was it someone else? UNLIKELY. Was it an assault weapon? VERY UNLIKELY

"Assault weapon" is an emotive term used mainly by gun-control advocates and their opponents; it doesn't mean quite the same thing as "assault rifle". In general it refers to rifles like AR-15s which can hold a large number of cartridges and which are semi-automatic only (ie they fire one shot per trigger pull, rather than firing a burst or continuing to fire rounds as long as the trigger is held back). The fact that they are semi-auto only means they are easily and legally obtained under US law, but in most respects they are just as deadly as a similar military combat weapon capable of bursts or full-auto. (As an illustration of this fact, British combat troops are trained to fight with their SA80 assault rifles set to semi-automatic in almost all circumstances: the use of full-auto is seen as an unprofessional waste of ammunition except for certain tasks which are mostly done using other equipment.)

US gun-control advocates think that civilians shouldn't be allowed to have such weapons, or failing that, that they should be licenced or at least regulated or recorded in some way. US gun-rights advocates disagree, and mostly seem to be having things their way, though public emotion around "assault weapons" means that some states do have special laws about them.

It is perhaps worth noting that quite a lot of Americans do die by gunshot every year: at first sight it appears to be an issue about as serious as accidental poisonings or car crashes (all three causes did for similar numbers of Americans in 2009, around 30,000 each). But, significantly, when an American dies by gunshot it is normally suicide: when it is homicide (around a third of the time, so gun homicide is a noticeably less serious problem than cars and poisonings) it is very unlikely that the weapon used will be an "assault weapon" or indeed a rifle of any kind. Nearly all US gunshot homicides are carried out using handguns, not longarms. If the USA has a gun crime problem, it is nothing to do with "assault weapons" like the AR-15.

It might also be worth noting that, as gun-control advocates claim, it is rare for civilian US gun owners to use their weapons legally against criminals (for instance in "home defence" scenarios). However there are between 200 and 300 justifiable homicides of this kind every year, a number not so very much lower than the fatal shootings accounted for by law-enforcement types acting in the line of duty. This is a small phenomenon in such a big country with so many privately held guns: however one can say that gun owners justifiably shooting felons in the act is a bigger phenomenon by orders of magnitude than school attacks or other criminal mass-shootings.

So America's gun culture has its costs and its benefits: but neither are actually big issues. After all, a Brit from the gun-control paradise existing in the UK*** seldom says to himself or herself "no, I shall not go and visit/work in the USA, they have guns there and I might get shot" - it would be silly. It would exceptionally silly to worry about being shot with an AR-15.

So perhaps gun control doesn't really need to be such a big issue in the States. It absolutely certainly isn't a big deal that the Ghost Gunner is on the market, no matter what earnest US gun-control types may say. It's a damn sight more difficult to arm yourself with an AR-15 by means of Ghost Gunner than it is to just go and buy one legally.

So sure, the gun panickers in the US "tech" media are behaving like fools over this.

But then on the other hand you have nutcases like Wilson and the lunatic fringe among American gun owners, who say that yes it is a big deal because the Ghost Gunner will prevent the damn guvmint from taking away their guns as (they believe) it is always conspiring to do.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the guvmint just isn't conspiring to take their guns away - it is proving politically impossible to introduce even so much as compulsory background checks on purchase, let alone registration or licencing, let alone any form of ban - you have to wonder why it is so very vital to preserve an absolute right to own small-arms. We've just seen that, no, statistically you are vanishingly unlikely to need deadly force for home or self defence: and indeed you can reasonably question whether it genuinely makes you safer to have a gun, as US deaths in firearms accidents - though very rare compared to suicides or homicides - are a bit more common than justifiable homicides by private gun owners. Have a gun or a whole lot of guns by all means, but don't kid yourself that's why you've got them.

Well that may be, the argument goes, but there's more: if the people are armed the government can't oppress them.

Pry your gun from your cold dead fingers? Nah, we'll just beanbag you while the flash-bangs are going off

That, sadly, is idiocy. You and your AR-15 will not stand a chance even against the sheriff's shitkicker SWAT team if they know what they're doing: they can come at you without you getting a shot off - they can do robots, explosive entry, smoke, CS and/or flash-crash grenades, and because you're armed they might be twitchy enough to shoot you with proper bullets instead of beanbags - but probably not. Even if you hit some of them before you go down they probably have rifle-proof body armour nowadays.

They probably won't storm your house right away, but that's not because they're afraid. The thing that's slowing them down isn't your AR-15, it's their desire to avoid killing or hurting you.

Supposing you're a real hardcase and you manage to piss them off, the federal oppressors might let the real big dogs off the leash. You and your militia buddies won't last long against a "rifle" company of paratroopers with their rocket launchers, machine guns, frags and the rest - and rifle companies are pretty much the gentlest thing the US combat forces have. (And please, oh please, don't start burbling on about the Posse Comitatus act and say that US troops can't be used to enforce the federal government's will on US soil: tell that to the ghost of one-time Arkansas governor Orval Faubus. He was presumably quite upset when President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to ensure that black kids could attend the Central High School in Little Rock.)

So. AR-15s don't keep you safe from government oppression: you'd need everything up to stealth fighters and nuclear weapons for that. It's not clear whether the drafters of the Second Amendment wanted to emphasise "well regulated" and "security" or the bit about the right to keep and bear arms not being infringed, but the realities of force have changed an awful lot since 1791. Small arms are no longer any guarantee of freedom, if they ever were.

So Wilson and his pals are frankly being at least as unrealistic as the gun-control mob. Guns don't keep you free: ironically perhaps, for those like Wilson who seem to believe that freedom is best achieved by circumventing laws (albeit laws that don't actually exist), it is laws that keep you free. It's the law that means you can have a gun no matter what the feds want, and no matter that they could easily take it away if they wanted/were allowed to.

If the US decided to have laws against guns rather than against full-auto weapons, crap like the Ghost Gunner wouldn't save you. It is not the receiver that's difficult to make, it's the barrel, and to make a gun barrel you need a lot of specialist kit which isn't used for anything much else.

It's laws and, dammit, governments which keep you free - not guns. After all, a sensible American would hardly say to himself, well, I won't travel to or work in Britain because they have strict gun control there and so I won't enjoy basic freedoms - it would be silly. Honest: we have habeas corpus and trial by jury and freedom of association, all the good stuff. We pay very similar amounts of tax, whether we're rich or poor. And it's probably a bit harder for our government to physically oppress us, as nearly all the police, feds**** etc are unarmed too!

So: as you were. Nothing to see here. Move along. ®

Bootnotes

*Depending on what calibre you choose: full-fat high powered rounds such as 7.62mm NATO would technically be a battle rifle, intermediate-power stuff such as 5.56mm NATO would be an assault rifle.

**Though that would be illegal unless you have a manufacturer's licence and have paid the associated occupational tax up date ($1000 or sometimes $500 pa). If you have done all that red tape you're good, but you mustn't sell the resulting full auto weapon/receiver to anyone except the cops or the military. Private citizens who are not licenced manufacturers can own full-auto weapons in the States, but only guns made or imported before 1986. Such weapons, being in limited supply and high demand, cost a lot of money.

***It's very troublesome to legally own a firearm of any kind in the UK and all such private weapons are subject to intensive registration, licencing and regulations. There is almost no opportunity at all for a private citizen to own anything other than a shotgun or a bolt-action rifle for hunting or target use, though the legal definitions of "shotgun" and "rifle" can be stretched to cover some very interesting items - such as the VZ-58 MARS action rifle, which gets around the UK's ban on semi-automatic rifles through a novel trigger-operated system.

****The UK spends more of its GDP on policing than the US does and we are heavily policed, with around 140,000 officers in recent times. But only a few per cent are authorised to carry weapons, and many even among these aren't available for oppression as they aren't on armed duties or are employed on security-guard type tasks etc (the largest armed police command in the UK is the Metropolitan Police Diplomatic Protection Group, with 700 officers who are mainly employed guarding embassies). There isn't really any equivalent of America's BATF, FBI, DEA and other large, armed central law-enforcement bureaux. The police officers and other government personnel (MI5 etc) who do those jobs are almost never armed.

Your correspondent is unlike most journalists - and most Brits - in that he has some liking for, experience with and knowledge of guns and other weaponry. My death-tech CV can be read at the bottom of this article by those interested.

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