The Engineering Truth Behind the Oregon Shooting
James Anderton posted on October 13, 2015 |
Is gun control still possible when anyone can print them?

The recent tragic shooting at an Oregon community college has restarted the perpetual debate about gun control in the United States.

As the country closes in on a federal election, the stakes are even higher with Democrats from the White House down calling for tighter regulation and the Republicans standing firmly behind the Second Amendment.

While politicians and the media debate about registration, waiting periods, magazine capacities and assault weapon bans, the new, engineering-driven reality has been completely ignored.

The simple fact is that guns are no longer controllable in the US or anywhere else in the industrialized world.


Mainly because of two enabling technologies.

The first is 3D printing. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing 3D printed a working M1911-style pistol almost two years ago and to date that pistol has fired some 5000 roundsto prove its durability. Range video shows that it’s accurate as well as durable.

3D printed guns can also be built from plastic resins, making them even more concealable and difficult to detect with conventional technology.

The other enabling technology is multi-axis computer numerical control machining. Five-axis CNC machine tools can carve almost any shape out of a block of light alloy or steel, including firearms.

Critical parts for Eugene Stoner’s iconic M-16/AR-15 assault rifle, for example, are routinely and legally created by individuals using freely available G-code to program the equipment.

It’s as easy as handing a USB stick to a good machine shop and picking up the parts a few days later. There are tens of thousands of such job shops across America and many - if not most - busy shops wouldn’t even know that they were machining receivers, bolts or sears.

And once programmed it’s just as easy (and on a per-part basis cheaper) to make 100 parts as it is to make one.

These two technologies can be used legally to produce fully functional firearms. One of the reasons that I’m describing the M1911 and the AR 15 specifically is that the patents for these designs have expired and are available in the public domain. It’s not hard to imagine that criminals with access to coordinate measuring machines and competent machinists could copy a multitude of more modern weapon designs.

Within five to ten years, it is likely that smuggling guns will be pointless: it will be simpler and easier just to make them.

So what does this imply for gun control? In my mind, it says that gun control is essentially impossible, just as it was to prevent streaming services from providing music and movies for download.

Regardless of where you are on the issue, the cold hard fact is that 3D printing and multi-axis machining is uncontrollable and it’s here to stay, so don’t be surprised if future crimes are committed with locally made firearms.

And similarly, don’t be surprised if future hunters and target shooters enjoy highly customized, personalized and reasonably priced pistols and long guns for sporting purposes.

Like all technology, it’s not about the machines: it’s about the people that use them.

Recommended For You