My thoughts on the Defense Distributed Ghost Gunner

    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

    I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!