Advertised as available for “Holiday 2014,” Defense Distributed will soon be selling a $1500 tabletop machine that automatically manufactures untraceable receivers for AR-15 semi-automatic rifles. The Ghost Gunner plugs into a laptop and works in about an hour. Users can legally purchase the remaining gun components online and assemble a firearm for which the federal government does not require an identifying serial number. While these “ghost guns” can be legally owned by their makers, they cannot be sold.


The Ghost Gunner’s design was incubated in an offshoot of the open-source “maker” community that developed 3D printing. The maker community generally focuses its efforts on creating objects that are cute or utilitarian (garden gnomes, light switch covers, clothespins), though its technology is seen as heralding drastic structural changes to how we make and buy things. The Ghost Gunner’s creator, Cody Wilson, is a libertarian crypto-anarchist who sees the maker community’s democratization of manufacturing as literally revolutionary. Wilson released the plans for a plastic 3D-printed gun in May of 2013, but after the State Department had those plans taken offline, he turned his attention to more durable metal gun components and technology that could be used even by beginners.


Firearms have long been seen as a public health issue. Higher rates of gun ownership strongly correlate with more firearm homicide and more suicide. The new challenge posed by widespread individual production is not that more guns will be made; there are already 270 million firearms in America.


Instead, what emerges from the democratization of gun production is a set of new questions about how to reduce gun violence. Gun control efforts have historically regulated ownership by restricting sellers and manufacturers – excluding hobbyist gun makers, whose production for personal use isn’t “commerce.” If commerce is removed from the equation, legislators and policymakers will have to find new ways to balance public safety against individual rights.

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Theo Schall

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