Ares Armament Report on 3D Printing Gun Technology

    Components (barrel and slide assemblies) of a Solid Concepts 1911 DMLS pistol, produced using DMLS

    Ares Armament have produced an excellent report, published by the Small Arms Survey, on 3D Printed Gun Technology. The report is extensively researched and a very balanced report. It correctly points out that while 3D Printers can do amazing things today, and are rapidly improving, criminals have been able to make improvised weapons since the dawn of firearms, and non-state armed groups are going to continue buying guns cheaply on the blackmarket. Here are some extracts from the full report …

    Understandably, the advent of a new technology in the arms manufacturing industry has caused various stakeholders some consternation. Law enforcement agencies, policy-makers, manufacturers, and users each have their own concerns regarding the implications of the technology. Some of the advantages of 3D-printing processes may also pose concerns for the development and application of national legislation and international instruments. Governments may seek to examine their national legislation in light of the advent of 3D-printed weapons, components, and accessories, and will require a thorough understanding of the technical and legal issues at hand in order to do so.

    The open source community has been quick to adopt the design and manufacture of polymer 3D-printed firearms and components, as polymers are significantly cheaper and more readily accessible to hobbyists, craft producers, and small businesses. Computer-aided design (CAD) files for various firearms and components have been available since the early 2000s. As expiring patents and technological developments are leading to more affordable 3D printers, amateur-built 3D-printed firearms are increasingly common.

    The first viable firearm produced using a 3D printer appeared in early 2013. The ‘Liberator’ handgun is entirely plastic—except for a metal firing pin, typically a nail (see Image 2). It is a turn-off barrel, single-action, single-shot .380 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) calibre handgun designed by ‘HaveBlue’ of the DefCAD forums (DefCAD, n.d.) and named after a conceptually similar progenitor dating from the Second World War.

    Rapid advances in 3D-printing technology and its increased application to the manufacture of firearms and firearms components raise a number of legal, normative, and law-enforcement questions. Although many national governments have highlighted the issue, as have regional and international bodies such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), very few reports on the matter have been compiled or made publicly available. In general, national and international controls apply to 3D-printed firearms in the same way as they do to traditionally manufactured firearms, but the new technology will pose new challenges in the area of enforcement.

    [W]hen the costs of purchasing or producing 3D-printed firearms are considered together with their operational limitations, traditional firearms purchased on the black market are likely to remain far more appealing to individuals and non-state armed groups for the foreseeable future.


    Criminals and armed groups around the world produce a range of improvised firearms from various materials using traditional or ‘backyard’ methods. Some improvised firearms are quite advanced, and fully automatic weapons of this kind are frequently captured from non-state armed groups. Most importantly, the capabilities of the vast majority of these weapons outstrip those of any 3D-printed firearm that can currently be manufactured at the consumer level. More technological expertise is required to print and assemble a 3D-printed firearm than to produce many other ‘backyard’ expedient firearms with more significant capabilities.

    The entire report can be downloaded here.

    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!