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3D Printers or Gun Makers?

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3D Printers or Gun Makers?
5 (100%) 4 votes

Gun control is a hot button issue in the USA this election year. Flying low on the spectrum of gun control is the issue of 3D printed guns. It seems that the storm in a teacup over Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed Liberator Pistol was nothing for the public to worry about.

Even as the development of 3D printable firearms increased to revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, 3D printed guns have lost the stigma and scorn of society.


In USA, the State of California is a prime example of overbearing and Orwellian gun control measures. A quiet law was recently passed in the state that may be the first law to truly target 3D printed guns.

Assembly Bill No. 857 was signed into law by the Governor of California, Jerry Brown. This law is unique in that it was written specifically to regulate homemade guns, including 3D printed firearms.

This bill has some of the first language directed towards 3D printed guns.

“SEC. 4. Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 29180) is added to Division 7 of Title 4 of Part 6 of the Penal Code, to read: Chapter 3, 29180
(B) If the firearm is manufactured or assembled from polymer plastic (Bold added by author), 3.7 ounces of material type 17-4 PH stainless steel shall be embedded within the plastic upon fabrication or construction (which is already required under the undetectable firearms act) with the unique serial number engraved or otherwise permanently affixed in a manner that meets or exceeds the requirements imposed on licensed importers (emphasis added by author) and licensed manufacturers of firearms pursuant to subsection (i) of Section 923 of Title 18 of the United States Code and regulations issued pursuant thereto.”


Under CA law, the 3D printed revolver (bottom) has to meet the same labeling standards as the commercial revolver (top)
Under CA law, the 3D printed revolver (bottom) has to meet the same labeling standards as the commercial revolver (top)

This paragraph is a shot across the bow of 3D printing, with implications far beyond the scope of gun control. This registration requirement means that the individual person who 3D prints a gun is required to meet the same labeling requirements as a commercial arms manufacturer. What is even more Orwellian is that the registration requirement means that the government would know if any 3D printer prints a firearm. The whole point of 3D printing a gun was to make a firearm without government interference.


Another highlight of the law is as follows,

“SEC. 5. Section 30105 of the Penal Code is amended to read:
30105 (b) The department shall charge a fee of twenty dollars ($20) for performing the eligibility check authorized by this section (Emphasis again added by author).”

It is one thing to require a background check for a commercially produced and regulated firearm;  now California will require that 3D printer pass a background check, and pay more than a 3D printed gun is worth for the hassle and invasion of privacy.


Assembly Bill No. 857 has many, many,  issues with it that can render it as empty as a dry California well.

The first is that it requires the honor system to enforce. The police have no mechanism in place to track the activity of individual 3D printers. Any measure above accidental discovery would require the police serve a warrant against a 3D printer.

The bill ask the 3D printer go to the local police station and pay $20.00 for the background check, and then return to the station to register the printed firearm. The traffic alone in California is enough to deter many people from making the trip.

Given that it take up to 60 days to pass the background check in CA, it is doubtful that anyone will want to wait that long for a gun they printed in a few days.

A second issue is just a matter of the material. 3D printed guns just are not reliable enough to justify a gun registration. 3D printer may rebuild a 3D printed gun multiple times with different receivers, which would mean that you would have to register multiple prints as your gun breaks down. Apart from a paperwork nightmare, it’s just not practical for individual 3D printers to register serial numbers on parts that may last a few minutes at a gun range.

A fourth issue with the law is how it treats 3D printers. In other parts of the law it requires that the gun be permanently labeled with the serial number, caliber, and the manufacturer’s name. This implies that you as a 3D printer are an arms manufacturer, exposed to the same laws and liabilities as a commercial arms factory. This law is troubling in that it requires you to put your name on a product you have no control of when the file is printed by someone else. Unlike commercial arms dealers who can control the quality of a gun from a factory, 3D printers have no such control when the digital file for a gun leaves their control. This can leave the designers of 3D printed guns exposed to the same liabilities as commercial firearm makers, without the multi-million dollar insurance policies that protect commercial arms dealers.

security dots
Steganographic marks (yellow dots) that contain hidden information on every piece of paper printed on a desktop printer. They are a code that identifies the printer that the image printed from. While this is done for counter-forgery, it is possible to match a document to your printer.

A fifth issue deals with the implications of this law. If the State will require you to register a 3D printed gun, what will prevent them from requiring the registration of your 3D printer and everything it prints? What will keep them from embedding security markers like the ones on desktop paper printers?

As is 3D printers are free of the registration and tracking measures of desktop printers. Will future printers be required to put some sort of ID code into the layers of every 3D print?

Will 3D printers have to pay a tax for every trinket and misprint that comes off the build plate?

A sixth issue is how the state will even enforce this law. 3D printing is done in the privacy of the home, and forcing someone to register a gun they produced privately can be a violation of 5th amendment rights against self-incrimination. The State of California will have to decide how to monitor 3D printers for printed guns, which has many scary implications into digital privacy.


Assembly Bill No. 857 is at best a bureaucratic waste of paper, and at worst a harbinger of state intrusion into 3D printing. As a bill it sets a dangerous president for the government to require the registration of other 3D printed items like medical devices  and the printers themselves.


DISCLAIMER: This blog is personal opinion and not legally binding. Always check your local laws before 3D printing a firearm. The firearm pictured is owned by the author who passed the Colorado firearms background check. The printed gun is a non-firing demo that was produced for previous blogs.


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Written by 

3D-PT is a small 3D printing company started by a science teacher with autism. He has a background in CAD and science education, and believes that 3D printing can be used to help the world. 3D-PT develops products for people with autism and other disabilities. 3D-PT is also developing 3D printable products for education. 3D-PT is online at 3dpt.club Twitter: @3dfidgets

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