Legality of 3D printing gun parts and having them shipped


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Positivity
April 10, 2012, 11:56 PM
What is the legality of 3D printing non Class 3 gun parts and having them shipped to my door step? For example, would it be legal for me to have a stainless steel bolt action receiver & barrel printed and shipped to me?

As a bit of background, 3D printing is using a specialized printer to print out a 3D model in various materials. Usually these models are kept as a computer file designed by the customer.

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seanie!
April 11, 2012, 12:07 AM
I'm no legal expert, but my guess is that it would be illegal unless you're an FFL holder? It's my understanding that the receiver of a bolt action rifle is the technical firearm. Hence, it would be like shipping a brand new firearm straight to your door. I could be wrong though. I have been plenty of times.

Twiki357
April 11, 2012, 02:09 AM
If my understanding of 3D printing is correct, the "Print" is made out of a plastic or resin type of material and would not be a functioning firearm. If this is true, there should be no problem any more than if it were a toy or non-functioning display model. But, like seanie, I could be wrong. The key in my mind is, Is it an actual weapon.

JohnKSa
April 11, 2012, 02:15 AM
Metal parts can now be printed. They're sufficiently strong for many functioning parts but I don't know of the technology is advanced enough to make parts that are strong enough to use as a functioning bolt-action rifle receiver or firearm barrel yet.

mnrivrat
April 11, 2012, 06:56 AM
have a stainless steel bolt action receiver & barrel printed

I don't think the technology is there yet to make a stainless steel part of that nature. If it were, one would have to have a manufactures FFL because ,as mentioned, the receiver is generaly considered a firearm by ATF.

F-111 John
April 11, 2012, 07:45 AM
The legality lies in the part, not how the part came to be in existance.

scythefwd
April 11, 2012, 07:45 AM
reciever, yes as long as it isn't a finished reciever. You can legally buy 80% 1911 frames (which is the firearm according to the ATF) and have the shipped directly to your door. You have to finish the milling/etc. If you had a 80% design and had it printed, I'd expect it to be the same. You'd still have to mill in stuff, possibly like an ejection port, or the slots for the locking lugs to go through yourself though.

Bolts, barrels, etc... perfectly legal in a usable state to be shipped to your door.

gfanikf
April 11, 2012, 11:14 AM
Can someone explain 3D Printing and it's potential gun applications a little more? The last I recall reading was an Economist article a few years ago (and mostly skimming it). Does it read a schematic and produce an object selected using the material provided (what would normally be printer paper)? Also more materials that can be used as the paper are coming on market?

If so the potential legal and tech implications are tremendous. Imagine downloading a schematic off the internet and printing out a gun. Hell, even for a local "print shop" FFL builder/designer it has tremendous possibilities. I mean imagine the potential profit in printed guns. You could sidestep so many issues with patent expired guns. Sorry for rambling the potential implications (just in firearms) is staggering, let alone general manufacturing and design.

scythefwd
April 11, 2012, 11:30 AM
gfanikf.. home 3d printers are still not doing metal.. I hadn't heard that commercial ones were either.

Art Eatman
April 11, 2012, 11:48 AM
Best to go Googling.

Regardless, even if it were possible to print a complete action, it would be a BATFE-defined firearm and would have to be transferred via an FFL.

SFAIK, the printer would have to be licensed by BATFE as a manufacturer, and would have to report the serial number of the sale.

scythefwd
April 11, 2012, 12:16 PM
ART - I can produce a firearm in the house with a lathe and mill. No SN, No registration, Nothing and be legal as long as I don't attempt to sell the firearm. There is no prohibition against making firearms for personal use.

My bad, you used printer as in the shop doing the printing, not the device that is printing.. dead on then.

gfanikf
April 11, 2012, 12:16 PM
gfanikf.. home 3d printers are still not doing metal.. I hadn't heard that commercial ones were either.
Neither had I. I had seen a paper one do a mask of a video game character, while impressive was small and still using paper.

Best to go Googling.

Regardless, even if it were possible to print a complete action, it would be a BATFE-defined firearm and would have to be transferred via an FFL.

SFAIK, the printer would have to be licensed by BATFE as a manufacturer, and would have to report the serial number of the sale.
Of course, that said it would reduce the possible barrier to entry costs for an FFL to be a manufacturer, especially in a decade using the rule of what's cutting edge now and what is ten years from now. Any local FFL could become a manufacturer and could make any gun for someone at costs that no one would imagine. Guns-on-demand if you will, sort of like Warner Brothers Archive Program, but with guns!

Of course it would make illegal gun manufacture a lot easier, but hey that's technology it works both ways. I swear I'm only 28, but this stuff seems so Sci-Fi and not something that's reality.

Here is an article I found discussing the idea too and links to the files for an AR Lower and Magazine.

http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/20/is-printing-a-gun-the-same-as-buying-a-gun/

Man could you imagine Magazines on Demand! Crap I should trade mark that. Make brand new AK-74 Magazines using original Circle 10 Plans.

scythefwd
April 11, 2012, 12:44 PM
There is one company doing stainless 3d printing, at least what google says. It doesn't look like it could be done for any high pressure applications, but it would be a great way to get a wax or plastic piece to be used in casting. Print it in wax, polish it up a bit, spray it with ceramics, pour in the molten metal and watch the wax burn away/melt out. The resin the makerbot uses is just plastic.. you could do a lower, but the it's too big to be done on a makerbot.

fatcat4620
April 11, 2012, 01:08 PM
ORNL has four metal 3D printing machines. It looks like zinc or pot metal they use.

brickeyee
April 11, 2012, 01:21 PM
It looks like zinc or pot metal they use.

Not suitable for pressure (barrels or bolt action receivers).

If it become possible to manufacture high strength parts suitable for firearms the existing manufacture rules would be invoked.

While numerous machine shops posses the equipment to manufacture firearms, as long as the machinery is not put to that use there is no BATFE involvement.

Sam1911
April 11, 2012, 01:40 PM
I can produce a firearm in the house with a lathe and mill. No SN, No registration, Nothing and be legal as long as I don't attempt to sell the firearm. And, in fact, nothing illegal even if you DO sell the firearm!

(Just don't make them for the purpose of selling.)

Owen
April 11, 2012, 01:41 PM
I know ORNL and a few other government labs can print with titanium dust. I'be be surprised if the strength is anywhere close to a part milled from bar or cast.

Sam1911
April 11, 2012, 01:50 PM
I know ORNL and a few other government labs can print with titanium dust. I'be be surprised if the strength is anywhere close to a part milled from bar or cast.

Probably not. I'd imagine this would be a sintering process -- in other words a powder gets sprayed into a shape and then heated to a fusing temp, somewhat below the melting temperature of the metal. The problem is (as I understand it) all such powder processes are somewhat porous and the strength of the final part is based on the desnity achieved. I don't think that 100% density (equivalent of forged or cast) is achievable, though I don't know what percentage is so.

F-111 John
April 11, 2012, 02:44 PM
The problem is (as I understand it) all such powder processes are somewhat porous and the strength of the final part is based on the desnity achieved. I don't think that 100% density (equivalent of forged or cast) is achievable, though I don't know what percentage is so.

Not unlike the process to manufacture MIM parts.

Sam1911
April 11, 2012, 08:39 PM
Not unlike the process to manufacture MIM parts. Yes, sounds analogous to MIM. And, we're still not up to MIM barrels and stress-bearing receiver parts just yet, either.

zoom6zoom
April 11, 2012, 10:22 PM
Doesn't matter what the receiver is made of, or if it survives the firing. If it can fire a single round, it's considered a firearm.

Here's an interesting question. If you run the printer over a network, sending the data stream to a printer located in a different state, would it be considered an interstate transfer?

Art Eatman
April 11, 2012, 11:23 PM
Looking at the OP's comment about shipping, and Sam's post #16, it looks to me like manufacture by the printer for the purpose of selling--which would mean FFL.

The printer is not printing for his own purposes; he's selling his work to fill an order--and that's "doing bidness".

Sam1911
April 12, 2012, 08:28 AM
Doesn't matter what the receiver is made of, or if it survives the firing. If it can fire a single round, it's considered a firearm. Of course, certainly.

Here's an interesting question. If you run the printer over a network, sending the data stream to a printer located in a different state, would it be considered an interstate transfer?

That is similar to another question I was pondering last night. This technology will certainly continue to develop. The blueprints of a gun are not THE gun. Certainly the electronic instructions to create a gun are not a gun, either. So, push the tech ahead 30 years and the metal process stuff is greatly improved, the prototyping machines are cheaper and easier to use, and the precision of the formed part is equal to that of a CNC machine milling rough forgings/castings.

Now a purchaser can contact the manufacturer directly, pay for his gun, "stream" a command file to his prototyping device, and the firearms company sells guns without any need for even a manufacturer's 07 FFL, or transfer through an 01 FFL in the buyer's state!

All science fiction right now, but looking at what's changed in the last 30 years, the next 30 will probably be pretty impressive, too. It would be darned funny to see much of GCA-'68 become irrelevant as technology surpasses it.

scythefwd
April 12, 2012, 10:59 AM
Sam, definitely correct about being able to sell it. I thought you had to put a marking on it to sell it.. I'm probably wrong. I did intend to say as long as you are making it for personal use and without the intent to manufacture it for sale. Excellent point.

gfanikf
April 12, 2012, 11:49 AM
I suspect what would happen is that the interstate data streaming (and go luck trying to say it's all in-state in general, and in specific to the Montana Firearm Freedom Bill) would be judged the same as a interstate commerce and the blueprint (or the frame/reciever) section would be considered a gun under an ATF ruling saying that it's in the spirit of the GCA. I could even see that occurring as an amendment to the GCA. Gun stores (wanting a printing transfer), manufacturers (Colts and Glocks who produce new weapons protected by IP law), and a few others. Now whether enforcement is possible or not is another question, but do you want to be stopped with a gun without a serial number or the guy who tries selling these direct.

Here is an interesting question what about when one downloads the file for free off the internet? Lots of interesting IP Law potentials (trademark, patent, and possibly copyright) and liability law too.

Agree on the sci-fi stuff. Truthfully I got giddy thinking of it (in general), I mean just look at phones and tablets in the last decade.

nofishbob
April 12, 2012, 11:57 AM
Transferring a data file that describes a gun, whether it is electronic instructions for a 3-D printer or a conventional blueprint does not constitute a firearm transfer, nor can I see how it ever will. A data file is just a detailed description of a firearm.

The firearm still has to be made, that is, to enter the physical world from the electronic realm. The location where that happens, whether on a 3-D printer, a futuristic "replicator" or by a craftsman with hand tools is the place where "manufacturing" occurs.

You can't shoot a data file!

Bob

gfanikf
April 12, 2012, 12:23 PM
Transferring a data file that describes a gun, whether it is electronic instructions for a 3-D printer or a conventional blueprint does not constitute a firearm transfer, nor can I see how it ever will. A data file is just a detailed description of a firearm.

The firearm still has to be made, that is, to enter the physical world from the electronic realm. The location where that happens, whether on a 3-D printer, a futuristic "replicator" or by a craftsman with hand tools is the place where "manufacturing" occurs.

You can't shoot a data file!

Bob
However, the data file is a vital part of the manufacturing process, without it, you can't build the gun, especially with the build instructions encoded with in it. Now you could make a good argument if it's say the gun minus the lower receiver, frame, action, whatever constitutes the gun, I think you have a far more valid claim.

The only difference from normal hard goods is it being a digital download purchase (which as a former NY resident are taxed and regulated fairly easily) say an ebook file (which needs some electronic device to function or play) vs a hard copy book (a hard good already made and with no need for anything else to function).

You can read an ebook without an ereader device or software!

Even if it wasn't, it's still interstate commerce, which gives Congress control over it. Besides as this hurts large manufactures and gun stores, you can be sure few trade groups will queue up to prevent this being added to the GCA.

Sam1911
April 12, 2012, 12:24 PM
Sam, definitely correct about being able to sell it. I thought you had to put a marking on it to sell it.. Now you've stumbled upon one of the little games the ATF likes to play. If you read the FAQ that covers making a gun for your own use, and selling a homemade gun, they tell you that you should (not MUST) put a serial number on it before you sell it. However, the law does not actually require one. The only guns you may build for your own use that you MUST serialize are NFA Title II weapons like SBRs and SBSs.

gfanikf
April 12, 2012, 12:26 PM
Now you've stumbled upon one of the little games the ATF likes to play. If you read the FAQ that covers making a gun for your own use, and selling a homemade gun, they tell you that you should (not MUST) put a serial number on it before you sell it. However, the law does not actually require one. The only guns you may build for your own use that you MUST serialize are NFA Title II weapons like SBRs and SBSs.
But who wants to be the person stopped with a non-serialized gun, but built from mass-use plans that was downloaded, how long before a ruling states that unless the file and building instructions were made by the person, it's not a self made firearm?

Sam1911
April 12, 2012, 12:41 PM
But who wants to be the person stopped with a non-serialized gun, but built from mass-use plans that was downloaded, Could be an issue, but in the end it is either illegal or it is NOT illegal. Folks get hassled for things that are NOT illegal occasionally, but how is this that much different from running around with an AK built on a receiver "flat" in your garage?

how long before a ruling states that unless the file and building instructions were made by the person, it's not a self made firearm? Well, the technology has to exist first. Then...who knows? That would go to the Supreme Court I'm sure as it would be radically redefining WHAT a firearm IS. A firearm is defined very specifically in the US Code. That text doesn't say anything at all about plans, blueprints, e-files, or anything else that might be necessary to MAKE a firearm. If it can't fire a projectile, itself, it isn't a firearm. (Unless it is a silencer...;))

nofishbob
April 12, 2012, 01:19 PM
However, the data file is a vital part of the manufacturing process, without it, you can't build the gun, especially with the build instructions encoded with in it. Now you could make a good argument if it's say the gun minus the lower receiver, frame, action, whatever constitutes the gun, I think you have a far more valid claim.

The only difference from normal hard goods is it being a digital download purchase (which as a former NY resident are taxed and regulated fairly easily) say an ebook file (which needs some electronic device to function or play) vs a hard copy book (a hard good already made and with no need for anything else to function).

You can read an ebook without an ereader device or software!

Even if it wasn't, it's still interstate commerce, which gives Congress control over it. Besides as this hurts large manufactures and gun stores, you can be sure few trade groups will queue up to prevent this being added to the GCA.


The e-book vs. firearm data file analogy fails in my opinion because you can read the e-book without actually making a physical book. An e-book functions in the digital realm as an equivalent to a printed book.

A file describing a firearm cannot be said to function in any way as a firearm without actually MAKING the firearm. it does not function as a firearm in the digital realm.

How would this be any different than buying printed plans for a gun via the mail....no transfer is required for these plans because the plans cannot function as a gun without actually fabricating the gun described.

Bob

gfanikf
April 12, 2012, 02:02 PM
Could be an issue, but in the end it is either illegal or it is NOT illegal. Folks get hassled for things that are NOT illegal occasionally, but how is this that much different from running around with an AK built on a receiver "flat" in your garage?
That's true and it's mostly qualified on what I said next.

Well, the technology has to exist first. Then...who knows? That would go to the Supreme Court I'm sure as it would be radically redefining WHAT a firearm IS. A firearm is defined very specifically in the US Code. That text doesn't say anything at all about plans, blueprints, e-files, or anything else that might be necessary to MAKE a firearm. If it can't fire a projectile, itself, it isn't a firearm. (Unless it is a silencer...;))
I wouldn't doubt that, but I could just as easily see the code changed to head that off (as I mentioned before), just like with a silencer. That said I would suspect something to occur administratively first, mostly with needing an FFL to use the printer (along the reasoning that it's only for mass duplication).

Keep in mind this is as you point out hypothetical, and mostly just a lawyer enjoying a look at potential issues. In the end I suspect that commercial sales or mass use will be regulated as a natural byproduct of the technology and how gun sales are currently handled and business/trade reasons.


How would this be any different than buying printed plans for a gun via the mail....no transfer is required for these plans because the plans cannot function as a gun without actually fabricating the gun described.

Bob
You could build a gun without printed instructions, you can't print a gun without the encoded instructions...or creating your own instructions (which would fall under the exception already allowed for self manufacture). One creation is dependent on the other, the other is not.

Don't get me wrong I'd love to have a point one day where I can download a "Public Domain" file and print out an MP5, this is all just an outgrowth of being a lawyer and love of debate (and trying to argue the other side) :)

Just my feeling that you'll likely see an administrative restriction, leading to a court case, or just a general change in the law (though it doesn't change potential liability or IP issue), but like I said I'd love Ctrl-P MP5. :)

brickeyee
April 12, 2012, 03:01 PM
I wouldn't doubt that, but I could just as easily see the code changed to head that off

It is already illegal to make a gun (as defined in the law) for sale without licensing.

The law does not care how you make it.

You could take a file to a block of metal.

The law defines WHAT a regulated gun is, not how it is made.

Make one for sale and sell it without a license and you can get in trouble.

New methods of making the fun do not matter.

The Wiry Irishman
April 12, 2012, 04:19 PM
Metal parts can now be printed. They're sufficiently strong for many functioning parts but I don't know of the technology is advanced enough to make parts that are strong enough to use as a functioning bolt-action rifle receiver or firearm barrel yet.

DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) is starting to get close, but not the point where I'd want to use it for high stress parts (barrel/chamber) or high-hardness parts (hammer/sear). However, NASA has developed and started a licensing an addative manufacturing technology called Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication (link (http://technologygateway.nasa.gov/docs/20080013538_2008013396.pdf)) that uses wire stock instead of powder and under tightly controlled conditions can produce single-crystal parts, and with further development has the potential to create parts with mono-molecular precision. While cripplingly expensive now, when this technology becomes more affordable in a decade or so, look for it to change the firearms manufacturing world completely. For no more than bargain bin barrel you could buy now, imagine being able to get a single-crystal barrel that can handle insane pressures with mono-molecular precise rifling and bore trueness that has none of the stresses associate with the cut rifling process - better-than-benchrest accuracy for eastern bloc import prices.

fatcat4620
April 12, 2012, 11:06 PM
Along this subject check out this guys work.
http://www.cncguns.com/projects/ar15lower.html

FIVETWOSEVEN
April 12, 2012, 11:41 PM
People have made AR 15 lowers out of wood before, I'd imagine that it could be done with these printers.

JohnKSa
April 13, 2012, 04:46 AM
I believe that transferring a program (or programs) for a CNC machine that would create firearm parts would be identical to transferring a program (or programs) for a 3D printer that would create firearm parts.

The previous capability has existed for years--the only difference is that it might take a bit more expertise to run a CNC machine than to run a 3D printer.

I don't see how either one could be considered legally identical to transferring actual parts themselves.

If you think about it, both are really the same thing as transferring plans to a machinist.

1. Machine readable plans are transferred to a 3D printer that creates the part(s).
2. Machine readable plans are transferred to a CNC machine that creates the part(s).
3. Human readable plans are transferred to a human machinist who creates the part(s).

In all situations the parts themselves do not change hands because they do not exist at the time of the "transfer".

In all situations you need raw materials already at the destination location to actually create the parts. Printer (3D "toner") CNC (metal) Machinist (metal).

In all situations you need equipment already at the destination location to actually create the parts. Printer (3D printer) CNC (CNC machine) Machinist (Machining tools).

In all situations you need someone to set up/use the equipment although a 3D printer is probably easier to set up & use than the other two.

Owen
April 13, 2012, 04:22 PM
Transferring a data file that describes a gun, whether it is electronic instructions for a 3-D printer or a conventional blueprint

However, transferring that file out of the United States would be an ITAR violation without the proper documentation from the the State Department.

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