If you keep up on internet news, you are probably aware of two topics that have been saturating this form of media: mass shootings and 3D printing. Although the two subjects have little to do with each other, there are those in the media that are intent on linking the two subjects.
So the question is posed: are 3D printed guns a real threat to you and your family? The question comes from several sources: recent internet videos showing “3d printed” guns being fired, as well as recent episodes of popular TV shows such as CSI showing the villain of the day to “3D print” an untraceable gun.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems with these scenarios. While it’s true that even the most inexpensive 3D printer could be used to fabricate some components of a firearm, it is highly unlikely that all the components required to make a working gun.
Firstly, most 3D printers only make parts out of plastic, whereas a real working firearm requires at least some components to be made of metal to withstand the heat and forces generated during the firing of the projectile. It is true that some additive manufacturing methods can produce metal parts (DMLS: direct metal laser sintering); machines in that category are outrageously expensive and are not available to the general public.
The other problem with this theory is the nonavailability of the engineering data required to feed the 3D printer in order to make the required parts. While it is true that you can easily find animation quality 3D models of the outside geometry of many common weapons, the internal engineering specifications are not readily available. One may counter that argument with the fact that an existing firearm could be reverse engineered to generate the required data sets. However, that process also requires specialized equipment and software.
In conclusion, with current technology, I would not consider the 3D printing of undetectable, untraceable weapons to be a serious threat to anyone’s safety or security. However, as technology develops, and 3D printing materials become more robust, this may change.