-By Warner Todd Huston
A few days ago the Interwebs went all a twitter over a guy that reporters claimed "printed" his own "fully functional assault rifle" using a 3-D printer that "prints" in plastic. But few of these reports came anywhere near getting the facts straight on this story. The fact is he "printed" only a small part of the gun. He did not "print" a "fully functional rifle" as many reports suggested.
There was "printing" going on, certainly. But the only part of the gun -- an AR-15 -- that was fabricated using the 3-D printer was a part that did not have to withstand the explosions of the cartridge going off, nor was it a part that hasn't been made of plastic in other guns already. The chamber was not fabricated, the barrel was not fabricated, the bolt wasn’t, and the firing pin wasn't. In fact, none of the most important working parts were created using the 3-D printer.
So, what was "printed" by the machine? Only the lower receiver. If you don't know what that is, think of it as the seat or skeleton upon which all the working parts of the gun sit. It is also the part to which the stock and handle are attached. So the only part this guy created was the lower receiver to which he affixed the rest of a real AR-15's parts.
Now, the science of the matter is that no "assault weapon" could be made entirely of the plastic from a 3D printer. The barrel such an all-plastic rifle could never withstand the firing of the cartridge and neither would the chamber. Also no “printed” plastic could be hard enough to create the firing pin that fires the cartridge. It's just impossible at this time to create a "fully functional assault weapon" using a plastic printing machine. And if such a weapon were to be created it would be lucky to fire a cartridge or two before cracking apart from the stress of the exploding cartridges -- very dangerous for the shooter, I’d say.
Unfortunately, many of the so-called "news" reports of this story claimed that the hobbyist created an entire gun. Some noted it was only the lower receiver, of course, but none of them put this all in context to give the fabrication of the part any meaning. Readers were left imagining that some guy used a plastic fabricating printer to make an entire gun raising fears that anyone could do this and societal danger would ensue.
The most shrill was the piece at Forbes.
For Forbes Writer Mark Gibbs absurdly imagined that being able to "print" your own gun would spawn any number of copies of the Colorado theater shooting. Gibbs admitted he's in favor of ending our Second Amendment rights, so I suppose it isn't surprising that he went over the edge imagining that anyone can "print" a gun quite despite the technological impossibility and science of it all. His entire article was a sky-is-falling laugher.
But Forbes wasn't the only one.
While Forbes at least noted only the lower receiver was made, Australia's Courier Mail mistakenly reported that a "A FULLY operational pistol and assault rifle have been 'printed' from plans posted on the Internet." (Yes, they put "fully" in all caps)
PopScience.com also had a piece, theirs misleadingly headlined, "A Working Assault Rifle Made With a 3-D Printer." The site went on to claim that the hobbyist had "successfully printed a serviceable .22 caliber pistol." (Sadly, National Review fell for this hogwash, too)
Another one of the more absurd treatments was from LiveScience.com where we see a fabulist sort of piece falsely claiming that "ordinary U.S. citizens" could now make "military-grade pistols or assault rifles" by "printing" them.
Of course, Huffington Post had a story on this "gun printing" business, too.
All these outlets were alarmist especially considering that quite a few guns are using lightweight and plastic parts already. Cavalry Arms, for instance, manufactures its own AR-15-styled weapon with a plastic lower stock and receiver right now.
But the truth is a "fully functional assault rifle" cannot be fabricated using a 3-D printer. It just can't. Sadly, every one of these "news" pieces misled its readers into thinking just such a creation was possible.