Can the Government Regulate Built-At-Home Automatic Weapons?

Table-top milling machines can allow anyone with the know-how to create their own AR-15 at home.

You know Bloomberg BusinessWeek does a good job of keeping track of emerging trends in business, but they also take a stab at social and political issues too.

In the wake of the Orlando shootings, a piece by Rob Walker called “A Crypto-Anarchist Will Help You Build a DIY AR-15” describes how Austin, Texas-based Cody Wilson has an interesting business: he makes and sells table top milling machines designed to machine AR-15 pattern receivers on your tabletop.

The on-line price is USD$1500 and he has a waiting list.

So the mass media has just now realized what manufacturing professional in the metalworking segment have always known: that firearms are some of the easiest devices to make by anyone with any mechanical aptitude at all.

In fact, machine guns can be mass produced without advanced machine tools, computer controls, or CAD renderings. Why? Mainly because machine gun technology is both simple and old… over a hundred years old, in fact.

In case you don’t have a milling machine in your basement, take a look at the British Sten Mk 2.

By Grzegorz Pietrzak (user Vindicator) (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Grzegorz Pietrzak (user Vindicator) (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

If it looks like a piece of drain pipe, that’s because it essentially is, made quickly and cheaply with as few machined parts as possible during World War 2.

My father carried one of these in 1943 and 1944 and as he recalled, the Sten was notable for three things: An awkward design that dug into your back no matter how you tried to sling it over your shoulder, an occasional propensity to discharge accidentally and a complete lack of accuracy when fired.

That didn’t stop the British and Canadians from making approximately 4 million of the them at a cost of just under ten 1942 dollars a piece. That’s about 130 bucks in today’s money. It’s not much, and I’m guessing that it could be mass-produced today for about 40-50 dollars in quantity with modern mass production techniques.

Quality was terrible back then, but the Sten could fire it’s entire 32-round magazine in less than five seconds, making it a devastating weapon when fired in close quarters.

Now I’m not here to give bad guys ideas, but the fact is that this bullet hose was built everywhere from the cellars of underground resistance units under German occupation, to Israeli Kibbutzim, using minimal equipment.

Today, it’s possible to download the G-code to machine entire assault rifle receivers on any CNC milling machine in the world and with 3D printing and laser scanning, reverse engineering of modern, sophisticated weapons is relatively easy.

If you’re handy, you can make a submachine gun using tools and supplies available at any Lowes or Home Depot. If you’re not, the Internet has multiple dark sites where instructions are available. A selective laser sintering additive manufacturing machine, a local job shop or a drill press, hacksaw and files do the rest. 

Cody Wilson’s small milling machine is a political statement about the 2nd Amendment, but the stark reality is that, like software piracy, the ability to control access to automatic weapons by determined criminals is essentially impossible.

Does this mean we shouldn’t try? Of course not, but when the day comes when someone commits mass murder with welded sheet metal or 3D printed gun, the cries to ban or restrict the basic machine tools of small job shops everywhere will be amplified by an ignorant and uninformed media.

Any manufacturer using solvents like acetone know what happened when government discovered their use in drug labs: an entire reporting bureaucracy that adds cost and delay to legitimate users everywhere and gives overseas competitors another cost advantage.

Let’s make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to the tools of manufacturing.

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.