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Today’s technological advances are nothing short of amazing, especially in the fast-growing field of 3D-printing. Since it became more popular and relatively more affordable to buy and operate a 3D printer at home, it’s opened a whole new world of possibilities, especially for preppers. In fact, when it comes to home defense, you can now create your own DIY legal firearms using a 3D printer and blueprints available on the internet.

History of 3D-printed guns

Although 3D printers were invented way back in 1984, it wouldn’t be until the mid-2000s that 3D printers became more mainstream and more accessible to small business owners and 3D printing enthusiasts, called “makers”. These cheaper “desktop” printers allowed people to produce physical prototypes of whatever they had plans for, whether it was a toy, a car part or prosthetic limb. These prototypes were “printed out” mostly in a form of thermoplastic. It was only a matter of time until someone devised a way to 3D-print a gun – and in 2013, someone did.

A sample printout of the world’s first working 3D-printed gun, “The Liberator” (Commons.Wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liberator.3d.gun.vv.01.jpg).

Cody Wilson, former student at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, made blueprints for a simple gun that had about 16 parts. After successfully printing out and testing the fragile plastic gun, Wilson uploaded the plans for it on his website, Defcad.com. Named “The Liberator”, the 3D-printed gun is a one-shot pistol chambered in .380, and its plans were downloaded over 100,000 times by users in the U.S. and abroad. This got the attention of the U.S. State Department, who ordered Wilson to take down the plans. After deciding to fight it out in court, Wilson and his co-plaintiffs won, thereby legalizing and making the practice of 3D-printing guns legal, with some restrictions. You can read about Wilson’s story and the legalization of 3D-printed guns here.

The legalities

You may wonder if it’s still against the law to download plans for 3D-printed guns and actually using a 3D printer to make them. Thanks to a landmark ruling in June 2018, it’s legal and will commence on August 1, 2018.

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Of course, there are still restrictions to 3D-printed guns. The guns or gun parts printed can only be for semiautomatic weapons, and blueprints for weapons that use caseless ammunition are prohibited. Other than those restrictions, many other gun blueprints are fair game.

Even the venerable M1911 pistol has blueprints available for free download. The catch is that it costs about $11,000 to make one just like this (3DPrint.com/139537/3d-printed-guns/).

Putting together “Ghost Guns” vs. DIY 3D printing

Even before the legalization of 3D printing guns was made, some makers found a loophole in gun laws and made what’s called “80-percent lower receivers” – partially-completed metal AR15 or shotgun lowers, that were produced via 3D printing, but still need some machining to accommodate the relevant components to be a fully-functioning weapon. These parts can be purchased online or from some dealers. The advantages of using 80-percent receivers is that you don’t have to buy the expensive machining tools and don’t need to learn sophisticated techniques to mill the receivers. However, you need to do some machining yourself, or find a skilled machinist to complete the work on the receiver, and buy all the other components to complete the weapon.

An “80-percent receiver” for an AR-15 can be bought, then machined to fit the other component parts to make a fully-functional weapon. Do note that making a “ghost gun” is legal, but selling or buying one will land you in jail. Study your state’s laws carefully, but when SHTF, making your own ghost gun in theory is a solid option (Wired.com/2015/06/i-made-an-untraceable-ar-15-ghost-gun/).

The downside to this of course is that the 80-percent lower is useless without access to a skilled machinist and tools, and if there’s no power to run the equipment. Finally, without the other vital components, you can’t construct the weapon.

Even 80-percent Remington shotgun receivers can be purchased. Once milled properly and completed with the right components, voila! You have your own shotgun
(TheFirearmblog.com/blog/2018/07/03/80-shotgun-receiver-set-by-logic-industries/).

On the other hand, if you purchase your own 3D printer, milling machine and all the necessary tools, you can make your own guns from the ground up. If in a SHTF scenario, this is extremely useful especially if you also have your own off-grid power source to run the whole setup. Keep in mind you’ll have to invest quite a lot of money for the right 3D printer, the right machinery, the tools and, of course, raw materials. You’ll also have to become skilled enough to properly mill and construct all the parts, and if you want to be able to make guns no matter how bad the SHTF scenario, you’ll have to invest additional time and money to set up an off-grid power supply.

The privacy advantage

Another advantage that 3D-printed guns confer is privacy. Current laws on 3D-printed gun parts or ghost guns don’t require them to be registered once completed, so nobody will have a record of you having a gun; only those who may have helped you in putting together your shotgun, AR or pistol from an 80-percent lower will know. This sort of secrecy can be a great boon should you find yourself living in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

Final notes

Some people may be hesitant to take up 3D printing for guns and gun parts for fear of being charged with a crime. This is a reasonable concern, but remember that, at the time of this writing, the plans available for 3D printing guns are in themselves perfectly legal and buying or selling completed ghost guns is illegal, but building one for your personal use is not. Note that the Department of Justice has recently ruled that the prohibition of 3D printing guns is an infringement of our 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, so no worries there.

As long as you don’t intend to buy, sell or distribute any 3D-printed guns or completed ghost guns without a license, you aren’t breaking any laws. However, mere possession of “ghost guns” are illegal in California and New York, so best not to try this option if you reside there. Check your state’s laws on ghost guns and 3D-printed guns to be sure.

If you’re concerned about criminal elements doing their own 3D printing, remember that most criminals don’t have the money, time or dedication to bother with 3D-printing guns for their own use or sale; it’s more “practical” for them to get a cheaper gun on the black market.

Bearing these in mind, you can definitely benefit by buying a 3D-printed 80-percent receiver of the gun of your choice, milling and putting the gun together piece by piece. It may not be the fastest or most cost-efficient way to build up your prepper arsenal, but it’s an option nonetheless. 3D-printing your own guns is a costly, time-consuming but worthy endeavor if you can spare the time, money and effort. If you get skilled enough, it’ll even be possible to make spare parts for the guns your already have, not to mention other gear you need or want.

So if 3D-printing is your strategy to build or beef up your doomsday arsenal, create an off-grid power source, and start downloading the available blueprints for a variety of guns. Don’t wait for when SHTF.