My thoughts on the Defense Distributed Ghost Gunner

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The media savvy Cody Wilson launched the Defense Distributed Ghost Gunner with much fanfare and mainstream media attention yesterday. The press attention will no doubt cause certain individuals to panic, much like his Liberator 3D-printable pistol did a last year. But the better informed folks, like you all, won’t be worrying (the world is not about to come to an end) but will be asking “does the product justify the hype?” and “do I need one?”.

Let me answer the former question first. Unlike the Liberator pistol the Ghost Gunner does not break any new ground from a technological perspective. It is, for all intents and purposes, an automated finishing jig for 80% lower receivers. TFB has published tutorials on how to finish a 80% lower at home with nothing but hand tools, hand tools that cost a lot less than the Ghost Gunner’s $1199 price tag.

Thomas Gomez drills out an 80% lower by hand.

Thomas Gomez drills out an 80% lower by hand.

Disappointingly, the Ghost Gunner does not appear to be a complete desktop CNC milling machine. Despite having a 3-axis CNC “brain”, In order to keep the price down they have built it to do one task, and only one task, well. From the Ghost Gunner website …

Ghost Gunner has undergone several design revisions to reduce machine chatter, backlash, and jitter, all with the goal of keeping total design cost low. Rather than using plastic, wood, or even an aluminum frame, Ghost Gunner is constructed with maximally rigid plasma-cut A36 steel and 304 stainless steel. In addition, the machine part count is greatly reduced compared to a traditional CNC, which both increases rigidity and further decreases cost. The end result is a small, cheap, and simple machine that exceeds most consumer-priced CNC machine specifications.

Although you will not be able to mill scope rails, triggers, Ruger 10/22 receivers etc. with it, the cost saving Wilson touts are real. A general purpose 2-axis desktop CNC milling machine called the Nomad 883 is about to go on sale for $2,500. A fullsize home workshop 3-axis machine such as the PCNC 1100 mill will set you back around $8,500. At half the cost of the Nomad, the Ghost Gunner is a bargain if all you want is to manufacture AR-15 receivers at home.

So to answer the question “do I need one?”, I would say “No”. BUT, I think this is the perfect machine for a gun club or a shooting range. Members could bring along their own 80% receiver and pay a fee to use the machine. Because the machine is open source and can be freely modified, a coin/bill operated version could be developed by the gun community. Club/range members could walk in with a BATFE-free 80% lower, and $10 or $20, and walk out with a BATFE-free AR-15 lower receiver! I can just imagine lawyers cringing at this idea.

I think the Ghost is the first of many machines to come out of Defense Distributed. I expect that in the next year or two Cody and his team will have developed a low cost 2-axis CNC machine able to create a number of different gun parts. I would not be at all surprised if a 3-axis mill came after that.

Chris Cheng is being sent a Ghost Gunner for review here on TFB. We hope it will arrive by December. 



Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Beamish

    for all intents and purposes

    • Paladin

      That was bugging me too.

      • donkiekong

        that is the correct way to say it. look it up.

      • Why?

        • Drapetomanius

          Not to be prickly, but words convey specific meaning, or should. What is an “intensive purpose”? I know what intents and purposes are, and how something can include all of them. I don’t understand why anyone would use a phrase who has not considered its meaning.

          • Banjo

            The phrase “for all intents and purposes” does have a specific meaning and it’s not “intensive purposes”, that would suggest the root word “intense” not “intent”, they are not the same.

        • guest

          You honestly don’t understand why? Do you even english, bro?

  • Xanderbach

    It uses a proprietary open-source file type, which people should be able to use to make the little machine mill anything (aluminum) that fits into the workspace. While it only finishes 80% receivers now, there is talk in the community of writing programs to make 10/22 receivers, motorcycle parts, or even “finish” a 0% receiver. You know- a block of aluminum. All of these plans will be free on the internet, and within a few weeks, impossible to ferret out of existence.

    • Paladin

      Indeed, it seems like this will be quite the powerful little machine. They’ve set it up to make building and distributing a new design as simple and pain free of a process as possible. It seems the main limitations will be workspace size and inability to do some of the more complex cuts that require more axes of freedom. The other thing I’m wondering about is how it will fare on harder materials. It seems it was designed with a focus on machining aluminum. Will it also be able to handle steel?

      • Michael Bergeron

        The main difference between machining aluminum versus steel is the relative hardness of the bit compared to the material to be machined, so it depends on if there are the appropriate bits available for purchase.

    • Blake

      What’s “proprietary open-source”? The definition of open-source is that it isn’t proprietary…

      • Guywithagun

        Did you just call him an oxymoron?

      • Steve Truffer

        It is unique to them, thus proprietary, but is open source, thus freely modifiable by anyone. Like keymod before other manufacturers picked it up.

    • herb

      Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see if other uses take shape. Tho I’m worried it might be too pared down/specialized…

  • grego

    or for not much more money (although you have to commit to time to source and setup) buy the cnc ready taig mill (1200$) 3 steppers and a controller (300-800$ depending on what your threshhold for tinkering/used/surplus parts is) and use mach3 in demo mode for a while (or the open source linux equivalent). add in about 200-300$ for tools, vice, etc (less if you go used) and you have a solidly built tabletop mill. or go for the littlemahcineshop (they have many options) pay a little less for the mill, more for the motors/controller and get something that has a little more working area, and HP for a similar cost.

    • Honestly I’m not that stoked about 80% lowers. I’d rather just buy a good finished lower and be done with it.

      • Kivaari

        I just bought three of them for $45 each. Bushmasters and yes I did a 4473.
        Adding a CMMG parts set at $55, makes for inexpensive XM15 lowers. The mid-length carbines I assembled had a total cost of $650 each. DS Arms uppers with charging handles and bolt carrier groups run ~$400.

    • It’s not that hard to finish an 80% with a 10″ tabletop drill press, a cross-slide vise, and a good jig. It won’t look as good as a lower you might buy in a gun shop, but it’ll work.

      Still way more expensive than just buying a finished lower though.

      • zardoz711

        Plus the cost of replacement bearings for your drill press.

        • Guest

          Hmm, replacing the bearings on a $100 drill press, or pay $500 for a mini-mill to finish a lower that’s still worth less than $80 when you’re finished?

  • John

    Since it’s programmable this is actually a pretty neat tool for hobbyists at a decent price. You can do a lot with this outside of just AR-15 lowers.

    It should be noted that they try so hard to not mention the speeds at which this device works, which means it will most likely be rather slow.

    • Paladin

      Check their page out, they mention that the feed speed is lower than the competition because it’s rigid enough to use deeper cuts, so it gets the same amount of work done in the same amount of time. That said, their FAQ page posts the feed speed at 80ipm

      https://ghostgunner.net/faq.html

  • Alistair

    Good God, it’s like every contributor on this blog is both painfully-inexperienced with firearms AND the Queen’s English… “intensive purposes”?

    • John

      It’s a doggy dog world out there, and writers of this caliber are a diamond dozen.

      • Chris

        I laughed.

      • guest

        The phrase is, dog eat dog world.

        • Cymond

          … that’s the joke.
          The phrase isn’t really “diamond dozen” either, killjoy.

        • dan citizen

          Whoosh

      • Mystick

        You mean “writers of this caliper”… right?

      • Cymond

        These grammatical fopaws are torcher.

        • somebodystolemynamefatboy

          I think that’s “forepaws”.

    • Intents and purposes you mean. Inexperienced? In order to come to that conclusion I guess that makes you an expert:-)

      • MattInTheCouv

        he said inexperienced with “the queen’s english” which i took to mean the proper application of the language. so yes, mistakes like “intensive purposes” (which he was pointing out, and not making) could be viewed as a lack of experience, if you equate skill level with experience. note, though, that i disagree with his assertion regarding firearms experience.

  • Ge

    If your only goal is to make AR lowers a cheaper solution:
    http://www.80percentarms.com/products/80-ar-15-easy-jig

    Set up is roughly $250 (150$ for the jig, ~$100 for router and tooling) + the cost of 80%s

  • I suspect that renting out the use of one of these could get the device’s owner charged as an unlicensed manufacturer. They’ve used the same logic against 80% build parties at machine shops.

    • robert

      Exactly what I thought.

      But, what the ATF doesn’t know, the ATF can’t do anything about. A group of 20 people chipping in, unadvertised to anyone but themselves or by very good acquaintances, suddenly makes this machine cheap and useful. Keep the purchase and shipping of the machine secret (Cash/Bitcoin) and it is completely off radar.

      Granted I just described the use of this machine by a criminal gang, but hey, the price of freedom is a little havoc. If everyone has an AR, I just call that target practice 🙂

      • Man pippy

        You forget those 20 dudes are on the NSA watchlist and have their online and mobile phone activity monitored, so they would be quite easy to find.

        • trav

          Yea well fuck the NSA, they are a bunch of criminal scum.

          • Nick

            “Yea well fuck the NSA, they are a bunch of criminal scum.”

            But gangsters aren’t? *facepalms*

      • Nick

        “the price of freedom is a little havoc”

        The price pf freedom would be having gangsters getting their weapons ever more easily? Have you gone bonkers, dude?

  • Christian Hedegaard-Schou

    It would seem the author hasn’t actually done any research before writing this article, which is sad. It’s an open source CNC machine that is capable of more than just finishing AR lower receiver blanks. While it’s design is mostly for firearms, it’s in their own FAQ that you will be able to use it for whatever you want.

    This is the kind of “journalism” that gun owners fight against all the time. Pathetic.

  • patrickiv

    “Club/range members could walk in with a BATFE-free 80% lower, and $10 or $20, and walk out with a BATFE-free AR-15 lower receiver! ”

    I think the above technique might get people in trouble. With metal going into the range, new guns coming out, and the range owner earning revenue, that could be considered “manufacturing”. A better idea would be to pool the money and then let each club member take the machine home to use individually. It’s certainly an interesting concept, especially if it evolves to machine 0% lowers.

    Any lawyers available to comment? It’s certainly an interesting concept, especially if it evolves to machine 0% lowers.

    • Mark

      The experience here in Colorado with doing just what was suggested above has met with objections from the BATF. High Plains CNC was renting time on a CNC machine to finish a 80% AR15 lower and the BATF called it manufacturing. The way around it is the individual has to drill the Safe selector switch hole. Now making the lower a firearm. They could then take it to High Plains CNC to have the rest of the work finished. High Plains now is just finishing a firearm and not creating one.

      • I read that and you are correct it did cause a problem. But as usual where there is a will there is a way.

      • The owner had better remain on the premises while the CNC shop is doing the work, lest the shop gets accused of operating as an unlicensed gunsmith/dealer. Even if the CNC shop has a FFL, it would be fun to explain lots of unserialed items passing through your shop during your compliance audit. The BATFE has also been pushing gunsmiths to upgrade their FFL from a 01 Dealer to an 07 Manufacturer. The 07 FFL status then opens you up to the State Department requiring ITAR registration, even if you don’t intend to export.

    • Mark N.

      I read today that someone in California has been charged for manufacturing because his employees were too helpful assisting customers getting set up before pushing the start button on the cnc machine.

      • Danmaku

        The best way is to have someone NOT on your payroll be there and help the customers as a customer. And hey, if you happen to invite him over for dinner and gets paid a “machinist’s” salary for helping wash dishes. *whistling*

  • politicallyincorrectshooter

    I wonder what charge the ATF will use to crucify them? Probably have a swat team kick in the door.

    • Drapetomanius

      The BAFTEFGH doesn’t crucify. The firing squad has become the punishment of choice in the US; and they deliver.

  • donkiekong

    from their site
    More than Guns

    Ghost Gunner is capable of manufacturing more than just firearm receivers. With Defense Distributed’s open source Physibles Development SDK (pDev), designers can distribute files via our ‘.dd’ file format, which contains all installation and assembly instructions, any required jig files to hold the part in place (that users can print with a 3D printer), and all machine definitions and code to physically manufacture a particular design.

  • Cymond

    “I think this is the perfect machine for a gun club or a shooting range. Members could bring along their own 80% receiver and pay a fee to use the machine. Because the machine is open source and can be freely modified, a coin/bill operated version could be developed by the gun community. Club/range members could walk in with a BATFE-free 80% lower, and $10 or $20, and walk out with a BATFE-free AR-15 lower receiver! I can just imagine lawyers cringing at this idea.”

    They’re way ahead of you. BATFE shut down CNC build-parties in April 2013. Apparently, they consider the act of programming the CNC to be the ‘work’ of completing the 80% lower, regardless of who pushes the ‘on’ switch. In that case, I don’t see how the Ghost Gunner is legal to sell/use. Does that mean Cody Wilson is the ‘manufacturer’ for every lower completed with a Ghost Gunner? I don’t know, it certainly seems absurd.

    http://www.calguns.net/calgunforum/showthread.php?t=750262

  • lmao

    OH NO A CNC MILLING MACHINE!!! BAN IT, BAN IT BEFORE SOMEONE MAKES SOMETHING THAT MAY BE TOTALLY LEGAL DEPENDING ON YOUR LOCATION!!! DEMAND FFL LICENSING FOR ALL MACHINISTS! FOR THE CHILDREN11111!!!!!!!!

  • SNNN

    “I read today that someone in California has been charged for
    manufacturing because his employees were too helpful assisting customers
    getting set up before pushing the start button on the cnc machine.”

    This….. Between the insane regulation and quite a few of us who are NOT tool savvy

    or having room in our studio apartment for a CNC mill or a drill press….this looks good
    to us. Many of us simply no longer have any faith that authorities will be anything other
    then heavy handed and capricious. With the march to background check and registrar

    even a family shotgun I sell to my third cousin the order of the day…these will sell
    very well.

  • DeSantis

    Thanks for the review- Going to have to look more into this..

  • trav

    Defense Distributed is awesome! Gotta get guns for everyone, especially Australians!!

  • Matt

    “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?”

    It seems that question is being answered.

  • Ryan

    I think the Ghost Gunner is less a product than a political statement. Sure, some people will buy one and fund future Defense Distributed projects, but it was mainly created to show the government that the cat is out of the bag, anybody can now make a gun with little knowledge (but enough money), and panicking and banning new legal technologies because it could be used for bad; is pointless.
    The mechanical design and software is open sourced and has been distributed to the internet; the genie is out of the bottle now. Defense Distributed could be shutdown, but their knowledge is loose on the world and now unstoppable.

  • Abad Don

    “So to answer the question “do I need one?”, I would say “No”. BUT,
    I think this is the perfect machine for a gun club or a shooting
    range. Members could bring along their own 80% receiver and pay a fee to
    use the machine. Because the machine is open source and can be freely
    modified, a coin/bill operated version could be developed by the gun
    community. Club/range members could walk in with a BATFE-free 80% lower,
    and $10 or $20, and walk out with a BATFE-free AR-15 lower receiver! I
    can just imagine lawyers cringing at this idea.”

    That’s called manufacturing and the lawyers who will cringe will be the ones defending the gun club and its members against federal firearms violations suits brought by the BATF. Research the gun laws a little better before blogging your “expert” opinions…

  • dima

    or you could buy a RioRand CNC Mini Milling Machine for 400 bucks.

  • Jeremiah Glosenger

    First, I think these are cool and would love to have one. From what I’ve read, the idea that an individual or organization could purchase one and then let others use it for a fee may be legally challenged. I believe there is a case (not enough time to look it up right now) where someone got in trouble for offering to allow you to use their milling services to finish your 80% lower receiver. The question is really, at what point is the consumer actually doing the 20% themselves. I’ve heard elsewhere that if you have a milling machine and the software set up to finish the job and you are offering to have people pay a fee so they can just put the receiver in the jig and press “start” then you are running afoul of the ATF. ATF may argue that you are now substantially affecting interstate commerce and would require proper permits, registration numbers, etc. Even if that was considered still legal, your gun club may have to have safeguards in place to prevent people from outside your state using the machine as that would put the process within the realm of the Feds. In any case, I’m not an attorney, but I would recommend anyone seeking to obtain one for more than personal use may wish to consult with an attorney or have an ATF opinion on the matter prior to proceeding. Just a word of caution. The ATF is not on our side generally speaking.

  • COBRACHOPPERGIRL

    Nobody alive in America agreed to or signed the Constitution, that contract out died long ago with the people that signed it. If your signature is not on a contract, you are not obligated to abide by its terms. Which pretty much makes all rules these people seem to want to derive from it and foist on everyone, null and void.

    It would be a hard argue to say most Americans are even US citizens. For one thing, you can’t make a valid contract with a baby that has just been born, based on where their mom happens to be laying down at the time, to follow any rules or terms of your little thug organization. For one thing, you can’t sign your name; for another, you don’t speak their language to agree to the terms of their “social deal”. No lawyer could argue a contract with a baby is a valid contract.

    Further, people, such as your parents, or anyone else, can’t agree to a contract for you on your behalf… otherwise, we’d have complete strangers selling other strangers into slavery for a quick profit.

    Its not your Constitution, nor are the laws, your laws; likewise, nor is the country, your country, its military your military, etc.

  • jeffrey melton

    Guns, what guns? I don’t have any guns. I’ve
    got paper weights.