Wired.com Writer Makes A Ghost Gun

Andy Greenberg, of Wired, wrote an article about his experience using the Ghost Gunner CNC milling machine by Defense Distributed. Andy tried three types of AR lower gunsmithing. He started with the traditional 80% lower and tried to use a drill press. His results were unsatisfactory. Andy does admit he has very little knowledge about tools and gunsmithing.




Next Andy tried using a Makerbot to print out an AR-15 lower receiver. However according to his gunsmith consultant, the 3D printed lower would not work as a functional lower.



His final attempt was with the Defense Distributed Ghost Gunner milling machine. Of course the results were spectacular.





Throughout the video above, Andy keeps using the word “untraceable”. i don’t think it means what he thinks it means. Tracing a serial number of a gun only tracks who made it, who sold it, and who bought it. It does not act like a GPS locator or lojack. If the gun is stolen, the serial number will only tell you who was the last person to legally purchase it. Tracing the serial number does not stop a crime with said gun. The act of seizing the firearm from a criminal will potentially stop future use of that firearm in a future crime. The only benefit to tracing a serial number would be to see if the person who last bought it, might have sold it or gave it to someone who is not supposed to own a firearm and thereby committed a straw purchase. However none of that stopped the original crime from happening.

Nicholas C

Co-Founder of KRISSTALK forums, an owner’s support group and all things KRISS Vector related. Nick found his passion through competitive shooting while living in NY. He participates in USPSA and 3Gun. He loves all things that shoots and flashlights. Really really bright flashlights.

Any questions please email him at nicholas.c@staff.thefirearmblog.com


  • Joe

    “If the gun is stolen, the serial number will only tell you who was the last person to legally purchase it.”

    Um, no. It will tell you who the gun was last transferred to using form 4473, if the FFL keeps the forms and the police ask nicely. Guns can be legally transferred between private owners without .gov knowing. Please refrain from making it sound like private sales are illegal.

    • Jefferson

      And then there’s Oregon, where private “undocumented” sales are now illegal. Thanks, (unelected) Governor Brown.

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Hopefully more counties will have the fortitude to do what Lane County just did.

    • Herky-Bird

      In Washington our new law requires one to use a dealer to transfer firearms. Anecdotally, I’ve met more and more people actually producing their own AR-lowers because of our new law.

      • Not_a_Federal_Agent


        So sure, any gun purchased NEW after December 4th, 2014 may have a paper trail attached to it. Any guns purchased new before that date do not when it comes to any type of private sales.

    • Not really. The serial number leads to the manufacturer, which leads to the distributor, which leads to the FFL, which leads to the person who bought it new.

      If that gun later goes to an FFL, there is no report back to the federal government that the gun was logged back in to the new FFL, because that would amount to a backdoor registration scheme. So, unless the FFL has some other reason to forward the data to the ATF (such as the records dump they do when going out of business, or a bona fide investigation of *that* FFL’s books), the trace trail isn’t reestablished.

      Since the federal government is prohibited from using background check data to create a registry, that won’t work either (and they don’t include the gun’s info on the background check request anyway).

      Now, if a stat has a registration requirement, they can ask the state to track it – which will work right up to the point the gun moves across a state line, and disappears from that state registry.

      • james A

        No, used gun reports have to be sent to the ATF quarterly. Ask any FFL in a higher crime area, basically any major metro area.

        • Got a reference that shows that specific gun information on secondary market guns acquired (or transferred through hat FFL) has to be routinely sent to ATF by FFLs? Not aggregate numbers, but make, model, and serial number type reports.

          Because that would be a facial violation of laws designed to prevent the assembly of federal registration databases.

  • N

    While the gun appears to have a bullet button, it also appears to have a flash hider and a collapsible stock. Which (I suspect) means it is an illegal “Assault Weapon” per CA law.

    • Stompy

      Nope, the bullet button magically makes all the evil features legal as long as only 10 round mags are used and the overall length of the weapon is 30 inches or greater.

    • 1911Junkie

      It’s not a “flash hider”, it’s the “muzzle device” – please don’t ask me about the difference between the two 🙂 But as long as it’s permanently attached (pinned) to the barrel, it’s legal in CA. And as long as the “bullet button” is installed, collapsible stocks are ok.

      • Stompy

        Nope, wrong again. The muzzle device does not need to be pinned or welded unless for overall length requirements like a 14.5 inch barrel to bring the length to 16 inches. Muzzle brake= not evil, Legal on featureless AR’s and AK’s and guns such as mini 14, M1A, Saiga in sporterized configuration, Kel Tec SU16, guns with no pistol grips. Flash hider= evil, need a bullet button if semiauto center fire with detachable mags.

        • Justin William Officer

          Listen to Stompy. He knows what he’s talking about. I love how peoe think they know about CA law just from the stuff they’ve read on chat boards. Typically people out of state tell me I’m not even allowed to own a semi automatic rifle in CA. Thanks Geniuses!

          • avconsumer2

            Hey, take it easy on us out-of-state-ers. Not all of us have to pass the bar to purchase firearms. ;P I would probably literally seek professional legal counsel regarding my “collection” if I were forced to relocate to sunny Commiefornia.

        • nadnerbus

          Just to expand on what Stompy has written, for anyone else that might read and be confused about bullet buttons and evil features, I’ll break it down a just a little more.

          There are two categories of “assault weapons” in California law, those that are named specifically by make and model, and those that are defined as such by their being semi auto, capable of accepting a detachable magazine, and possessing one or more evil features. Among such features are, arbitrarily, flash hiders (not to include brakes, must be purpose made to be a flash hider), pistol grips, collapsible/folding stocks, and bayonet lugs.

          If your rifle is named by make and model in the law, there is no modification you can make to it to bring it into compliance. If it is not named, it can be made either “featureless,” whereby it has none of the offending features, and can therefor be made to accept detachable magazines, or it can be fixed magazine via bullet button or another means, in which case it can have all the evil features desired so long as it does not have a magazine with larger than ten round capacity.

          These distinctions are also why it is legal to buy an M1A, with the sole modification being the removal of the standard flash hider and the addition of a California approved brake, as well as a mini 14 and Kel Tec SU16 so long as they are featureless. If one were to take a Mini 14, say, and put it into one of those stock kits to give it a pistol grip and collapsible stock, they would be manufacturing an “assault weapon.”

      • Ben

        Flash hiders are just a subcategory of muzzle devices. As are muzzle brakes, compensators, suppressors, and blast shields. Both are correct terms.

      • Eddie_Baby

        Go to Calguns if you want understand their crazy guns. The CA legislature is full throttle for gun bans. Brown knows that’s illegal and impractical, so he’s been vetoing the most radical bills, and now they have patchwork quilt of crazy gun laws.

    • nadnerbus

      What Stompy said. Adding a bullet button places the rifle in the “fixed magazine” category of the law, meaning the evil features verbiage doesn’t apply.

      Evil features language applies to “semi automatic, capable of accepting a detachable magazine.” Hence, SKS with bayonet is legal.

  • MR

    Will it shoot thirty caliber clips in a half second, thirty caliber clips per half second?

    • Menger40

      Only if you have the optional shoulder thing attachment

      • Miles

        Now, remember, it has to one that ‘goes up’.

      • UpChuck.Liberals

        And it must have the deLeon idiot attachment modification to the bullet hider flash suppressor in the trigger.

    • marathag

      And that extra deadly Bayonet lug?

    • RICH


      • El Duderino

        I think you need to get your sarcasmabellum X-rayed dude.

        • UpChuck.Liberals

          It might be covered up by the factiousmaximus.

      • MR

        Google “De Leon”. I think that’s his name. Yes, he is a liberal. Heck, google “ghost gun”, he’ll probably be mentioned.

        • MR

          Additionally, you may want to consider employing some critical thinking skills. See how the original post has several “up-votes”? And other posters have added more nonsensical phrases to the conversation? Perhaps there’s something going on here that you’re not aware of, some research may be in order before you go spouting off, exposing your ignorance. Then maybe you can look real hard and find that “caps lock” button, and switch it off. Unless of course you’re out-sarcasming my sarcasm, in that case: touche’.

        • who cares?

          I googled DeLeon and got a Shephardic Jewish folk music group’s site. Not bad, if you like that sort of music.

      • MrApple

        I think you may have missed something.

      • Gern Blanston

        its a joke – google kevin deleon and ghost gun and dont be drinking anything while watching his video on banning “ghost guns”….. you’ll then appreciate the comments about 30 cal clips and seconds etc…

      • John David Peer

        Lol…and CONSERVATIVE CAPS to boot!

    • RICH


    • Blake

      only if they’re high-speed clips…

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    And I just went to a gun show and bought an even better “untraceable” AR that I didn’t waste a week trying to build.

  • xyrth

    Poorly reseached and executed articles such as this are why i cancelled my subscription to Wired after over 15 years of reading it. It’s like they got 80% of the way there and said, “close enough”.

    • Plumbiphilious

      Well, they started with an 80% and they didn’t bother to finish it by anodizing or painting it, so yeah, they did go, “close enough.”

      • MR

        But if you paint or anodize it, it doesn’t look so unfinished and “untraceable”.

        • Bob

          Needs an outline of Casper on it.

          • MR

            I was thinking the PacMan ghosts

          • Nicholas Chen

            Here is my Aero Precision Ghost Gun lower. I laser engraved the Boo Ghost from Super Mario Bros.

          • avconsumer2

            lol – that’s hawt. Daddy likey.

        • And for the purposes of what he was trying to establish, it was irrelevant.

          Besides, most home makers don’t Anodize, and painting doesn’t do a thing for hole wear.

    • HH

      As a long time Wired reader but certainly more of a gun guy/owner/shooter & libertarian … I found the article fairly balanced. Sure, I winced at some of the stupid and hyperbole comments…but overall it was well written and mostly accurate for non gun lay person.

      In other words for a liberal NY’er w zero gun experience …bravo to him for making the efforts and building his own and giving us his opinion on the process. He could have demonized and sex’d it up a LOT worse than he did. I think he made a relatively (not entirely though) apolitical assessment of the process.

    • kevinp2

      Andy Greenberg has always been very fair to the gun community and 3D gun making. He covered Defense Distributed’s first 3D-printed pistol, including its first field testing with live ammo. At the time, I wrote to him thanking him for his fair coverage.

  • DIR911911 .

    since ar uppers are easily swapped , one could easily commit a crime , switch uppers (or just barrels) and when police do their ballistics it will come up as not the same gun. . . and now I’m on an NSA list some where I’m sure 🙁

    • TheNotoriousIUD

      I remember back in the old days when people would commit a crime and then simply throw the gun into the river.

      • Ben

        There was an interesting AMA on reddit a while back by a current military, ex-gang member who was essentially the gang’s armorer. He said that after a gun was used in a murder, they didn’t really do anything to it. Ballistic tracing is virtually never used to connect a gun to a murder. If the police were going to catch them for the murder, it wasn’t going to be because of the gun.

        • There is also apparently a fairly well developed network to simply move a murder weapon to another jurisdiction, often by swapping 1:1, because as soon as you break the “person of interest” link with the weapon, the odds that someone will do a ballistic match back to *that* murder are effectively nil.

          Heck, in a major metro area, just moved the gun across town to a different branch if the same gang…

          Ballistic matches are *not* like they show on CSI. You really need to be comparing *this* gun to a *specific* case, and even then, with modern machining tolerances, it’s pretty iffy that you can establish a match more closely than, “Yup, it’s the same model of gun,” if there have been more than a handful of rounds fired between crime scene and lab test.

      • Canadian Vet

        Or just leave the gun at the scene of the crime. Provided, of course, they didn’t neglect to retrieve their cannoli.

        • TheNotoriousIUD

          Bravo, sir.

      • Justin William Officer

        Last I heard the home mill was only good for a few lowers before it shot the bed. Do we know if they’ve worked the bugs out and made it more sturdy?

    • MR

      With modern manufacturing technology, are there really that many variations barrel-to-barrel to allow a forensic technician to definitely say that a bullet passed through a particular barrel, and not the barrel three pieces latter through the rifling machine? That’s always seemed suspect to me.

      • Squirreltakular

        That is a really good point.

      • Paul Epstein

        With the wear and so forth a particular barrel experiences after use, there are often unique characteristics not simply a feature of the manufacturing process. If nothing else, the degree of wear is fairly specific.

        But with new barrels, the forensic technician would only be able to say in court that the barrel tested was consistent with the one that fired the bullet, in other words that while they don’t know if a particular gun DID fire the bullet, it could have, and the likelihood of two people with barrels as you say three pieces later through the machine, both brand spanking new, and both being owned by people with opportunity and motive for the murder, well, draw your own conclusions on that.

        Fundamentally, determining whether a gun could have fired a bullet is more useful in the investigation than the courtroom, since an indication the gun is consistent establishes grounds for a search or arrest warrant, while determining a gun is not consistent with the bullet fired prevents the police from investigating from the wrong leads.

    • Dan

      We already had you, you’re # 5,300,004

    • uisconfruzed

      The bolt face will leave tooling marks as well.
      If you click on my avatar, you can see the tooling marks on a bolt I returned due to poor QC. It would be very easy to match.

  • Kochnekov

    Look like a 30 round magazine. Isn’t that against CA law?

    • Tet

      Hex mag 10/30

  • nadnerbus

    We all know violent criminals have a large overlap with gun hobbyists. What a huge threat this is.

    Why would someone intent on committing a violent crime waste their time milling a receiver, ordering all the parts, and assembling it, when they can just go obtain a gun illegally on the streets? Are criminals holding up liquor stores with ARs now?

    I get all the hand wringing. Anyone, even potentially a convicting felon, can now buy an AR without an FFL background check, and use just a little bit of extra work to make it fully functional. I just don’t see it turning into a big issue, considering the streets are already awash in guns.

    • “just a little bit of extra work”???

      I guess that’s true if you buy the CNC machine for a few thousand .dollars, but you can do more damage with a lot less money.

      • nadnerbus

        I was thinking more along the lines of some of the poly lowers with a different color for the material to be removed, something a buba can do with a hand drill. But yeah.

        I head read somewhere about a guy in Sacramento who was assembling 80% lower ARs, making them full auto, and selling them illegally. I think they caught him pretty quick, can’t find any links though.

        So to play devils advocate, it does have the potential to make it easier for underground gun manufacturing, as it eliminates any FFL trip to get all the parts. I still don’t think it is a problem, or likely to become a problem though.

  • Don Ward

    Those 3-D printed guns and anything made from that Ghost milling machine are probably more traceable than the average gun you’d buy from a pawnshop or a sporting goods store. It’s like some folks don’t understand forensics.

  • Stan Darsh

    At the very least, he violated ATF Ruling 2015-1.

    • MR

      Crap, now I have to google that.

    • 2015-1 doesn’t apply, as long as he does the work himself, with no intent (at the time of making it) to transfer it to another individual (and surrendering it to law enforcement doesn’t count).

      2015-1 is aimed at people who do everything but push the button for you. The ATF reasoning is that they are the “actual” manufacturer, and the fig leaf of having the customer (who is theoretically “renting machine time”) push the start button doesn’t make the customer the actual maker. In fact, if the machine shop maintains full control over the tools, and the individual customer basically just follows explicit directions from the machine shop, the *machine shop* is the ” manufacturer”, using unpaid labor to create a firearm receiver to transfer to the customer, even if the customer does all the setup and the machine shop guys never touch the blank.

      2015-1 also covers manufacturing receivers with a seperate FCG pocket (for example) , even if that pocket is filled with another, similar material. That wouldn’t apply to this writer, even if he had such a receiver balbk – 2015-1 addresses the making of the blank, under those circumstances, and states that such a blank is already a finished receiver, legally.

  • sam

    I don’t dislike this article. It’s chicken-little-ish but I’ve seen worse. The guy revels in his lack of ability too much, I think, trying to come off a certain way, which is smarmy. But you know, there’s some OK content. I can’t resist though:

    Such ghost. Very untrace. Much gun. So scare. Must surrender. Plz take.

  • me ohmy

    skirting all gun laws and un traceable…
    where in the constitution does it say REGISTER ALL YOUR FIREARMS..
    dumb liberal..

  • Ben

    Well he couldn’t exactly take it back to NY. And he had the sense to strip the parts and just turn in the lower. He didn’t have any other option.

    • uisconfruzed

      A hammer?

      • Given the publicity, and his likely lack of complete knowledge of the ATF approved destruction requirements for an AR receiver (remember, use the wrong tool type, and it doesn’t count, even if you cut the same places ATF wants – use the right tool, but miss any specific area, and it doesn’t count), and the fact that it takes no effort to drop them off at the cop shop beyond driving there, and turning them into the police was a good call.

        After all, he had no desire or legal ability to keep them, no legal way to sell them, and they had served their entire purposes once he had tested them. At that point, they’re just trash to be disposed of, and it would be helpful if he could *prove* he disposed of them, in case questions later came up.

        • uisconfruzed

          How often do you think cops actually destroy weapons turned in?
          Hopefully rarely if their historical or valuable.

          • Depends on whether the state or locality has a law *forbidding* destruction, but where it is legal, cops are certainly willing to destroy guns they end up in their custody, as soon as they aren’t needed as evidence.

            This has all-too-often included recovered *stolen* weapons, which are destroyed as “crime guns” as soon as they aren’t needed to convict the thief.

          • uisconfruzed

            I’ll bet it isn’t uncommon for the turned in items to go home at the end of the shift.

          • I suspect that whether or not they get officially logged in matters…

  • Harold

    Your closing paragraph is spot on and freaking brilliant. To quote David Cassidy “I think I love you”.

  • uisconfruzed

    Ghost Gunner group purchase?

  • jcitizen

    As far as the Feds are concerned making a semi-automatic gun for yourself is not illegal, but the state you live in might not feel that way.

    I remember a professor a while back who made his own machingun to protest the ’86 law, but the Feds refused to arrest him, and eventually even offered to give him a free registration (using the amnesty clauses) just to take the wind out of his sails. I’m not sure what state he resided in, but they took no interest in his cause either. The government has no interest in making a case law example of their regulations, as they would probably end up striking down all of them in the Supreme Court. It is easier to just let the regs stand to harass law abiding citizens. The BATFE has a poor record of even prosecuting criminals for GCA violations; so many ask why keep the laws on the books at all!

  • Finders-Keepers

    Can you print an AR lower and just hand it into the cops–apparently no questions asked?

    Will “…uh, I found this on the street…” work?

  • Core

    Question: when an untracable ghost gun fires explosive tracking rounds through thirty caliber clips into another ghost gun, does that make it traceable?

  • kevinp2

    Sorry, late to the thread. But Andy Greenberg has always been very fair to the gun community and 3D gun making. He covered Defense Distributed’s first 3D-printed pistol, including its first field testing with live ammo. At the time, I wrote to him thanking him for his fair coverage.