3D Printed Guns

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Stuff about 3D printed guns are mostly ghost tales that the Gun Controllers use to scare the ignorant. Like the fable about how it'll destroy Police investigators ability to do their jobs. They want the public to believe that (a) they catch a lot of people via ballistics (b) that defeating ballistics is hard. Both are misleading at best. This goes over the basics.

I'm not a ballistics expert, but I have been around guns, made guns, and have a pretty good bullshit detector. Here's some common sense points that I'd love to see an author or "expert" refute any of:

  • (1) Zip guns (home made guns) have been around forever. So this isn't unique. It's only a problem is 3D Zip guns are easier/cheaper to make/buy than other Zip guns. And that could be a while. Right now it takes equipment more expensive than a stolen gun.
  • (2) Shotguns, which are one of the easiest of the zip guns to make, don't really have projectile ballistics (unless you're using a slug) which is the thing lost with a plastic barrel. The other ballistics, like a piece breaking off, or other unique chemical signatures, are MORE likely with a 3D printed gun. (Because it's 1-off, fragile and not mass manufactured).
  • (3) Because 3D guns (with plastic barrels) have less durability and range, the shooter is going to have to get closer to the target, which gives lots more possibilities for evidence/witnesses.
  • (4) The vast majority of murders are not found through ballistics, but by investigators tracing it to a suspect. Then, at best the ballistics help pin some of the suspects to the crimes after the fact (if they recover the gun),... but I doubt anyone has been convicted on ballistics alone, and if it has, it was a travesty: it's not reliable enough. So there has to be a ton of other circumstantial evidence as well, and all that more material circumstantial evidence would still be relevant. And the lack of ballistics and lack of 3D printed guns, means if you find a 3D gun on the criminal, and no ballistics at the scene, that alone is nearly as good as a couple of FBI experts claiming the microscope comparisons of bullet striations looked similar (with a 90% probability or some such).
  • (5) Printed weapons are rare enough (for now) that if one was used in a crime, it would be easy enough to pin you to having the tools/access to make one -- and that would be nearly as circumstantially relevant as ballistic would be.
  • (6) Ballistics are easy to defeat. (a) clean your weapon with harsh tools (b) buy a replacement barrel which are cheap (c) dispose of the weapon.
  • (7) 95% of printed weapons would print every part except the barrel, and the barrel is the part that gives you ballistics. (Technically, there's also hammer/extraction marks on the casings, but those aren't any different between 3D printed and a normal gun).
  • (8) Plastic guns (with plastic barrels) are pretty much single shot (or a few), before they disintegrate. Ballsy criminal trusting that to his murder crime. Sintering (metal) or molding metal parts with a 3D printer, both are expensive and would leave traceable ballistics (since the metal is harder than the lead bullet, and would be quite unique). If you wanted today, easier than making a whole gun, is you could just make your own barrel or sleeve for one (especially shotgun)... which again would defeat ballistics. But so would running a coathanger (and wire brush/sandpaper) down the barrel of a regular gun. So defeating ballistics is easier than printing a 3D gun.


So this article is a campfire tale about the boogeyman to scare legislators into trying to criminalize knowledge and 3D printers, or scare the gullible into believing the world just got scarier. We convicted criminals without crime scene ballistics up until about 1929 or so (more popularized a bit later)... though technically, there were some rare cases of people eyeballing marks on bullets that go back to 1835. The point being, you don't need ballistics in the majority of cases, and if you care about case closure rates on likely guilty suspects, there are a lot easier procedural things to fix than worrying about ballistic forensics.


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