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The Truth About 3-D Printed Guns and Criminal Gun Usage

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Gun control activists have found a new target to go after: 3-D printed guns.

Why? It’s an easy scapegoat to lay blame on, just like every proposed gun control policy mulled before Congress and state legislatures.


This effort is attributed to two things: the reintroduction of Senator Richard Blumenthal’s (D-CT) “Untraceable Firearms Act,” and a recent ‘60 Minutes’ CBS report claiming criminals overwhelmingly prefer them when committing crimes. The former, if passed, would ban the manufacture and sale of “ghost guns.”

Giffords, a gun control organization operated by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), just launched a campaign against these firearms. Unsurprisingly, the organization and its senior policy advisor, David Chipman, are spreading misinformation about them. 

In a recent blog post titled Ghost Guns Are Specifically Designed for Criminals, the retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) special agent claimed, “These days, we’re seeing an alarming new trend among criminals and firearm traffickers: ghost guns. Not enough people are talking about this growing threat, and that’s got to change.”

He added,“Why do criminals love ghost guns? That’s a no-brainer. It makes their jobs easier.”

Congressional Democrats, Giffords, and ‘60 Minutes’ are intentionally deceiving the public about 3-D guns. Let’s explore the facts about them and their alleged primary use in gun crimes. 

No Evidence 3-D Guns Predominantly Used in Crime

While “ghost guns” were recently trafficked and used in last year’s Saugus school shooting, there’s no evidence suggesting they’re a criminal’s to-go gun.  


For example, a January 2019 survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found criminals didn’t readily use “ghost guns” in perpetrated crimes. The survey, Source And Use Of Firearms Involved In Crimes: Survey Of Prison Inmates, 2016, concluded of the 287,400 prisoners surveyed who possessed guns during their offense 56 percent had stolen them, 6 percent had found the firearms at the scene of the crime, 43 percent obtained it from the black market or illegal means while 25 percent were gifted the guns by family members or friends. A mere 7 percent of respondents surveyed had purchased guns from federal firearms license dealers (FFL). 

According to a 2016 Chicago Inmate Survey of Gun Access and Use (CIS) from University of Chicago Crime Lab, Windy City criminals primarily obtained firearms from strangers (34.4%), theft (31.7%), friends/family (26.7%), gangs (22.6%), straw purchases (20.8%), and on the street (19.7%).

Even the ATF officer featured in the ‘60 Minutes’ special, Thomas Chittum, couldn’t say the number of “ghost guns” used in crimes. In fact, he admitted they constitute a minority of guns involved: 

Bill Whitaker:  How many of these guns are on the streets, you have no idea? 

Thomas Chittum: Uh, no, I have no idea. 

Bill Whitaker: And how many crimes are being committed by these guns, you have no idea? 

Thomas Chittum: Well, not with precision. They still represent a minority of the firearms that are being used in crimes. But we do see that they're increasing significantly and rapidly. 


3D Printed Guns are Already Highly-Regulated

‘60 Minutes’ also claimed, “...federal gun law only regulates a part, called a frame or a lower receiver.” 

That’s simply incorrect. 

In order to manufacture and sell these custom built firearms, one must obtain a special license from the ATF. Their website states, “Any person "engaged in the business" as a manufacturer must obtain a license from ATF.” 

Washington Free Beacon’s Stephen Gutowski tweeted this in response to the CBS report, “To be clear, it is currently not legal for prohibited persons (like convicted felons) to build their own firearms. Nor is it legal to sell guns you've manufactured yourself unless you have a license. It is legal for the law-abiding people to build their own guns for personal use.”

Law-Abiding Americans Have Been Building Guns Since USA’s Inception

The concept of custom-building firearms, most recently with popular semi-automatic Armalite Rifles (AR-15s), isn’t new. In fact, people have been designing and modifying firearms for personal use essentially since our nation’s inception

Per ATF rules, “An individual may generally make a firearm for personal use.”  

Criminals using “ghost guns” in crimes are generally prohibited possessors who shouldn’t be in possession of them in the first place. How does regulating these firearms in question, which already have strident restrictions placed on them, any further deter criminals? It won’t.


3-D Printed Technology is Expensive and Not Easy to Acquire

It’s very hard for individuals—let alone criminals—to obtain 3-D printed guns. They don’t come cheap nor are they easy to procure and possess. 

In an op-ed for, a self-described leading authority on 3-D printed technology, Scott J. Gruenald wrote, “...making a 3D printed gun is not easy, it is not quick, it is not cheap and it does not result in especially dangerous or deadly weapons. Not only is it cheaper to just buy a real gun in the United States, but it is also probably a lot faster to go buy one, even with any state-mandated waiting periods.”


Criminals will use whatever tool is at their disposal—be it a 3-D printed AR-15, handgun, or knife—to inflict pain onto their victims. Unfortunately for gun controllers, none of their beloved laws or bills have deterred criminals from committing ghastly acts. In fact, they have invited more crime. 

It’s time for our opponents finally to get serious about tackling criminal misuse of firearms, not scapegoat 3D printed firearms. 

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