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Printing Guns: Science Fiction Or Real Possibility?

12:06 AM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- Much of the conversation about gun control these past few months has been about keeping guns from falling in to the "wrong hands." But what if those wrong hands didn't steal guns or buy them illegally?

What if they made them?

It could one day be a reality with 3D printing.

How does 3D printing work?

For Bob Gusek, 3D printing has become one of his favorite ways to spend time and save money. It also provides an air of whimsy.

"It's just fascinating to watch this move around and see something get created right in front of your eyes," Gusek, who's from High Point, said.

From the functional to the funky, Gusek makes a lot of toys, trinkets and tools that keep his 3D printer busy.

"I've made a cup holder for my Jeep," he said. "I've made puzzles, I've made little containers for my mom to hold her jewelry. I've made some cookie cutters."

Instead of ink and paper, Gusek's printer uses plastic to craft his creations -- one layer at a time.

His homemade rig ran him about $500 and he actually built it from parts he made with another 3D printer.

It's an old technology being used in revolutionary ways. At the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, 3D printing has been used to create new organs. The concept is a game-changer for medicine -- and maybe more.

Could it be used to make guns?

A Texas group called Defense Distributed has posted several videos of 3D-printed gun components, including one video of a man using an AR-15 rifle.

The gun's lower receiver appears to have been made with a 3D printer. After just a few shots, the part fails. But Defense Distributed continues to develop the technology, and it has been very successful in starting the push for printed guns.

Who knows about it?

"When it comes to the concept of 3D printing and manufacturing firearms, the ATF's known about this potential ability for several years," Earl Woodham, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told WFMY News 2. "In fact, our firearms technology people have studied it."

Federal firearms laws are complex, but Woodham says printing and using a gun for what's called "personal use" is legal.

"There is no restriction on an individual person making a firearm for personal use -- no matter how it's made," he said.

But remember, the part in Defense Distributed's video broke quickly, which is why Woodham says 3D printed guns aren't in the ATF's sights yet.

"The material's not available yet to do that," he said, "to manufacture a reliable, consistently functioning firearm."

Is it cause for worry?

The plastic most 3D printing enthusiasts use -- and can afford -- just isn't strong enough. Will it get there? Woodham and Gusek both say yes -- years down the road.

But for now, they say no one should be losing any sleep.

"I don't believe that 3D printing of a firearm is a reason anyone should stay up [at night] now," Woodham said. 

"It's just not very practical, Gusek said. "For a criminal to get a gun, it's much easier for them to either steal it or get it on the black market."

To be clear, not everyone who might use a 3D printer to make a gun would want to break the law or use it for harm. And Gusek says 3D printers are already helpful in making legal, useful gun accessories -- like grips.

The ATF continues to monitor the evolution of technology that might allow for reliable 3D printed guns to become a reality, Woodham added. If and when that happens, he says it will be up to the presidential administration at that time to develop any policies and procedures related to the creation and use of 3D printed guns.

WFMY News 2

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