Defense Distributed has made a habit of provoking government regulators in its quest to bring 3D-printed firearms to home hobbyists. The most recent loophole exploited by Defense Distributed is once again about creating a working firearm at home, but unlike the 3D-printed Liberator pistol, this one isn’t made of plastic. The Ghost Gunner is a small CNC milling machine that costs a mere $1200 and is capable of spitting out an aluminum lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle. This device allows people with no gunsmith training to assemble a working assault rifle at home with no licensing or serial number — and it’s completely legal.
The Ghost Gunner itself is a small box about one foot on each side. Inside is an Arduino controller and a custom-designed spindle that holds a steel carbide drill bit. It works like any other CNC machine — the drill spins up and moves in three dimensions to carve items out of blocks of metal. However, this machine is specifically intended to make an AR-15 lower receiver. That’s the part of a gun that connects the stock, barrel, and magazine. You could say it’s the “gun” part of a gun. It’s also the part that’s regulated by the ATF and assigned a serial number. Selling it without a license is illegal, but making it yourself is perfectly fine. An untraceable gun built without a serial number is often called a “ghost gun” by gun control advocates, so of course Defense Distributed borrowed the term to ruffle feathers.
This is only the latest example of Defense Distributed pushing the bounds of home manufacturing technology to make a point. The organization is run by founder Cody Wilson, who isn’t shy about explaining his radically libertarian ideals. Allowing everyone to create an assault rifle with a few clicks is his way of showing that technology can always evade regulation and render the state obsolete. If a few people are shot by ghost guns, that’s just the price we have to pay for freedom, according to Wilson.
3D printing guns like the Liberator was more of a statement — it showed that a new era of manufacturing tech is upon us. Of course, no one would ever want to use a plastic gun if given the choice. The Liberator is prone to failure, and usually only manages a few poorly aimed shots. In designing a cheap CNC machine specifically to make gun parts, Defense Distributed is delivering a viable weapon. If you can make a lower receiver, all the other parts can be ordered online cheaply and legally.
The Ghost Gunner is capable of making anything that fits in the build envelope, as long as it’s created with Defense Distributed’s Physibles Development SDK and distributed as a .dd file. In that respect, it’s not much different than any number of 3D printers. This is an entirely new era in the manufacturing of real world objects, in both plastic and metal. It used to be that you needed training as a gunsmith to make your own firearm, but that’s no longer the case. Whether or not you agree with Defense Distributed on the value of untraceable firearms in a free society, this is happening and regulation is miles behind the technological curve.