Are 3D Printed Guns Legal?

Homemade 3D printed gun parts and guns have come under increased scrutiny in the wake of President Biden’s executive order on nonserialized firearms. A popular hobby with those whose passion for shooting sports and engineering intersects, the 3D printing process has become more economical and widespread as equipment and training become more affordable and accessible. Unfortunately, this rise in popularity has been met with a rise in misinformation in popular media and fear-mongering that has been used to justify regulatory overreach efforts. Not only are 3D printed guns legal federally, but they also continue an American tradition of self-reliance and ingenuity that our country was built on.

Printing Your Protection

While the majority of firearms come from commercial sources, over the years, Americans have adapted the materials, tools, and skills available to them to create their own firearms. From forged or cast muskets to machined and milled modern guns, our passion for both self-defense and self-sufficiency has made the private manufacture of firearms for personal use a hobby in its own right within the wider world of shooting sports. As manufacturing techniques evolved, it was inevitable they would make their way into our garage gunsmithing workshops in the form of 3D printed guns.

Using plastic or polymer materials, 3D printing machines build up the items they’re making by following computer instructions that craft slice on top of slice until the completed item is finished. Once printing is complete, the machine operator removes it, cleans it up by removing any selvage or clearing out areas that are supposed to be empty space. The CAD (Computer-Aided Design) plans used to craft the item can be written by the user themselves or downloaded online from plan repositories created by other users. Under the directions of a skilled craftsperson and with the proper printing materials, this allows the creation of professional-level parts quickly and cost-effectively.

Defining A 3D Printed Firearm

.As anyone who has tried to explain that there’s no such thing as an “assault weapon” can tell you, the media and general public don’t always get it right when discussing firearms. They tend to lump everything unfamiliar into overly broad categories that muddy the discussion. 3D printed guns are no different, which is especially problematic as executive orders and pushes for legislation seek to remove the legal status 3D guns enjoy. When people talk about these firearms, they could be referring to two distinct types of weapons: firearms that are entirely 3D printed and guns that use a substantial amount of 3D printed parts.

Fully 3D printed weapons are relatively uncommon. When Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, released his plans for the Liberator in 2013, it sent immediate shockwaves through the firearms, engineering, and 3D printing communities, while also drawing a large amount of media and legislative attention. The Liberator was a single-shot pistol that was entirely 3D printed except for the firing pin. While it’s not surpassing a good Glock as anyone’s go-to self-defense firearm, it proved that the nascent printing technology was up to the task of helping DIY enthusiasts build better firearms. 

More commonly, 3D printing is used for either low-stress components or components that will be bolstered by metal materials. Homemade gun enthusiasts choose this manufacturing method for a variety of reasons,  including making functional components that may not be available elsewhere, such as extended magazine release parts, as well as components intended to have a certain cosmetic look. Some enthusiasts, however, use a printer to make the lower receiver of the firearm, the part recognized as the actual firearm by federal authorities, crafting a 3D printed gun, although they may use traditionally manufactured parts, such as barrels, magazines, and trigger assemblies, interfaced with it. 

Legality Under Fire

The non-commercial manufacture of firearms for personal use is legal at the federal level for anyone who can legally own a firearm. But while a 3D printed gun may be legal in theory, it still has to comply with certain manufacturing rules and some states and municipal jurisdictions have passed their own ordinances relating to the production of homemade firearms. 

  • Under the Undetectable Firearms Act, any gun that won’t set off a metal detector is illegal, – Most plans for guns intended to be entirely printed include instructions to insert a metal block that would be detectable, thus making them legal under federal guidelines.
  • In California, any homemade weapon must include a state-issued serial number. – Whether you’re making a 3D printed gun or using a more traditional manufacturing process, makers must apply to the state for a serial number to be included on the firearm. 
  • New Jersey requires a Federal firearm manufacturer’s license for gun production. – While not required federally, the state mandates that this documentation be received before a 3D gun is manufactured. The state has also sought to make downloading or possessing the CAD files for printing a firearm illegal.

Protecting Your Right To Self-Defense

Whether you’re passionate about 3D printed guns or just protecting your 2nd Amendment freedoms from erosion for any reason, there are actions you can take to help protect the legality of printed firearms and promote the proactive protection of your liberties.

  • Join your voice with others. – From local gun-rights organizations to national bodies, shooting sports enthusiasts have plenty of opportunities to meet with others to coordinate efforts to promote 2nd amendment rights. If you’re interested in 3D printed guns, Defense Distributed’s Legio program helps protect your rights and offers you access to a community of experienced printers and makers like yourself. 
  • Contact your representatives in government. – We have the right to have our opinions heard by those who we vote into office in the legislative and executive branches of the government. Go to your elected representative’s web page and you’ll find their full contact information. Make sure they know how you feel about keeping 3D printed guns legal.
  • Follow us for the latest developments. – Forewarned is forearmed. Watch the news for the latest developments, but we’ll be watching too. Follow us to make sure you don’t miss any developments that aren’t getting the attention they should in popular media.
  • Get your nonserialized parts and kits. – If you’ve been on the fence about making your own 3D printed firearms, then now is the time to act. While making your own firearms in the privacy of your home should be the right of every American, we know there are those who want to see that right eroded or removed entirely.

Order Your Parts Kits And Supplies

We’re proud to offer the 80% lowers and parts kits you need to build your own firearms at home. We’re also staunch supporters of your right to make safe firearms however you see fit, including the noncommercial production of 3D printed guns. Protect your rights and defend your family with JSD supply.