It feels like there’s a new controversy surrounding gun rights every week. “Ghost guns” and 3D printing are frequently involved. People love to be vocal on Twitter, but in reality the level of understanding the average person possesses — whether pro-gun, anti-gun, brovet, cop, mom demanding action, journalist, or self-proclaimed expert — is almost zero.
We’re going to look specifically at one firearm in this article. That firearm is the Glock 17. We’ll look at the Glock 17 because it’s ubiquitous amongst gun owners, gun debates, and is also a commonly 3D printed gun. We’ll look at how these guns are obtained in white markets, secondary or gray markets, black markets, and through 3D printing (which can serve in any of those markets).
We’ll break up some of the common misunderstandings about 3D printed guns. We’ll also look at what it takes to produce a 3D printed Glock. And who knows? Maybe we’ll even help some folks build one.
What is a Glock 17?
The Glock 17 is a massively popular handgun. Introduced in 1982, over 5 million Glock 17 pistols have been manufactured. One of the first handguns to feature a polymer (plastic) frame, the Glock is widely used by both civilians and law enforcement. The gun itself is a 9mm semi-automatic, and features a ~4.5” barrel and 17 round magazine from the factory. Glocks are known for their reliability and ease of use.
Ways to Get a Glock 17
White Market: Licensed Dealers, ATF Paperwork
Walk into any gun store in America, and there’s a good chance you’ll see at least one Glock 17 on the shelf, ready to be purchased. So how does one purchase a Glock 17? Well, it starts with some paperwork.
A buyer must complete at the gun store’s counter an ATF Form 4473 (firearm transaction record) which records the customer’s name, address, physical attributes, racial and ethnic information, and asks a series of questions about the buyer’s criminal history (if any) and immigration status. Using this information, the gun store submits the customer’s information to the government for a background check. The customer’s background check must return ‘approved’ before the customer takes possession of any firearm. (In some states, a permit or license to buy precludes the requirement for a background check).
This ATF Form 4473 also lists the firearm’s make, model, importer, caliber, and serial number (among other things). The ATF Form 4473 is retained after the purchase by the gun store for a legal minimum of 20 years. This record is accessible to law enforcement at any time without requiring a warrant or notification to the customer.
Your State May Vary
The requirements to buy are stricter in some states than others. But the above outlines the minimum possible requirements for a gun store to make a legal sale in compliance with federal law. And after your waiting period, after paying sales tax, after paying for your own background check, and after giving all your information to the government, you can walk away as the proud new owner of a Glock 17.
Free Men Don’t Ask Permission
But what if you don’t want to fill out a permission slip to record every gun purchase? What if you don’t want your private information sitting in a de facto firearms registry? Maybe it’s no one’s business what you defend yourself or your home with. What if the entire political class — and I can’t stress this enough — can go fuck themselves?
Secondary Market: Private Firearm Sales
One can always buy a Glock 17 via private sale from another person in order to avoid the government’s hassle. There’s no paperwork required (in most states), and no sales tax or background check fees either. The practice of private firearm sales is legal in many places and circumstances, and illegal in some others. To ‘gun people’, buying and selling guns via private sale is a common and normative behavior.
Nonetheless, there are still a few drawbacks and risks to a private sale. The Glock you’re buying is second hand, so you don’t know it’s history. And it’s not a ghost gun because it has a serial number (which means there’s a record of it somewhere). There’s a risk you’re inheriting a ‘dirty’ gun that someone is unloading on you (knowingly or unknowingly). You could also be buying a broken gun. And if you don’t know who you’re doing business with, the other party may or may not be of legitimate circumstance. It’s entirely possible your counterpart is an illegal possessor, or worse, an undercover cop.
Most of the time a private sale goes smoothly. But the practice itself is frequently under attack from anti-gun politicians, and the law regarding private sales is always changing. Social media tools like private Facebook groups help keep the market facilitated, but these groups are always being shut down and popping back up somewhere else. It’s a hassle to keep up. There are alternatives like GunBroker or Armslist, but you’re involving at least one intermediary at that point.
Black Market: Unlawful Private Firearm Sales
A private firearm sale — which is generally legal — becomes illegal when one or more party involved is legally prohibited from possessing, selling, buying, or transferring a firearm. This may be due to previous criminal history relating to an involved party, or private sales may just be illegal in the specific jurisdiction in which the sale is occurring. These illegal sales are ‘black market’ sales, and there’s no use spending much time on them.
But if ‘hell is other people’, wouldn’t it be nice to just build your own gun, free of government interference, and without the potential risks of a private sale?
Enter: the 3D Printed Glock
Note: I’m not going to discuss HOW to start 3D printing in this article. But you can still learn! To get started learning about 3D printing, you can read a comprehensive guide here or on Ctrl+Pew’s website here. You should also download the Keybase app/desktop client and join the Deterrence Dispensed group by searching for the team named “det_disp”. If you need help, find me on Twitter or IG (@en_bloc_press) and DM me. I’ll point you in the right direction.
3D printed guns have been the subject of immense controversy for years. You can thank Cody Wilson and his team at Defense Distributed for laying much of the groundwork that today’s community relies on. Wilson and Defense Distributed were (and still are) at the heart of the legal battle surrounding 3D gun designs and print files being published on the internet.
Wilson’s “Liberator” pistol was the first widely available 3D printed gun, and indisputably changed the course of distributed manufacturing, as well as the struggle surrounding gun rights.
Let’s start by clearing up the biggest misconception about 3D printed guns.
Don’t Those Blow Up?
You tell me. Here’s the Glock 17 we’ll be referring to for the remainder of this article. Looks pretty sturdy.
At the time of this writing, a fully 3D printed gun like the Liberator is only good for a shot or two. That’s because it’s an older design and uses plastic parts almost entirely. The barrel is even plastic. That’s not going to hold up very long, of course. It’s more of a proof of concept, and in fairness, wasn’t designed to last.
Changing gears to a more modern approach, the 3D printed Glock 17 is a legitimate handgun that uses the same metal parts as a “real” one. It relies on factory metal components for most of the design. In fact, the “3D printed” Glock 17 uses the exact same metal parts, springs, slide, barrel, and locking block the factory Glock does.
The only thing 3D printed about the 3D printed Glock 17 is the frame, which houses the trigger, rail sections, and magazine. Pressure bearing parts and rails are made from aluminum or steel. This design holds up well, and many of the test guns have hundreds or thousands of rounds through them.
The biggest risk to 3D printed Glocks is (ironically) heat. The frame can be deformed by heat that results from excessive rapid fire. This means that after about 80 rounds of mag dumping (firing as fast as possible) the frame will start to melt. That’s game over. For normal use, however, the handgun is fine almost indefinitely.
In reality, a modern 3D printer is able to manufacture something pretty close to a factory Glock 17. These 3D printed Glocks are not serialized, and because they come to life in a garage or workshop, are unknown to authorities. An added benefit is the low cost of production. It’s about $3 in material to produce a Glock 17 frame from PLA filament. The printer itself usually sells for ~$200.
If you’re interested in building one, read the guide above. And then see below. You’ll need to get the print files, which are available in Keybase by typing “+files” into the chat for team “det_disp”. The files will include the detailed guide and notes for building the pistol.
Is that Legal?
In most places in the U.S., yes. The only part of a regular Glock 17 the ATF cares about is the frame. The frame is where the serial number is located. And, as the ATF sees it, the frame is the “firearm”. All the other parts — the barrel, slide, striker assembly, ejector, etc — are not legally considered firearms and are not regulated. The can be shipped straight to your house or purchased over the counter with cash.
The frame that you are printing is probably legal too. Home gunsmithing is generally legal, and the ability to produce your own firearms is historically protected by the second amendment. The only time you need a license is if you’re making these commercially for profit or exporting them. Building one for yourself is fine.
Note: This isn’t legal advice. These laws are changing all the time, and it’s entirely possible that local or state laws in your jurisdiction are stricter than federal laws. If you choose to care about gun laws, then choose to look up what’s relevant for you and your area.
Shopping List for a 3D Printed Glock
You’ll need the following items to produce a 3D printed Glock 17. You will also need a few common hand tools (like a set of needle nose pliers, a drill, Allen keys) that you may or may not already have on hand.
- 3D Printer (~$200USD)
- eSUN PLA+ Filament (this is what the frame is made of, ~$23 a spool)
- Glock 9mm Gen3 Frame Parts Kit (~$50)
- Glock 17 Gen3 Slide Parts Kit (~$80)
- Glock 17 Locking Block (~$30)
- Glock 17 Gen3 Barrel (~$100)
- Glock 17 Gen3 Slide ($~170)
- Glock Night Sights (but any Glock sights are fine, ~$50-100)
You’ll also need a set of rails. These are a metal part that mate the 3D printed frame to the metal slide assembly. You can make these yourself by following by the build instructions included with the gun files of the F17, or you can buy them from someone else who fabricated them. In Keybase, people usually buy from use @Avees or from “Ghost Rails”. They go for around $30 a set. I have personally bought several sets of rails from @Avees and the quality is great.
How to Assemble Your 3D Printed Glock
Thanks to the devs at Deterrence Dispensed, the following assembly videos are available. After the Glock frame comes off your printer, you’ll need to clean it up and drop in the parts kit. The following videos show you how. If you’re well-versed in firearms, it’ll take about an hour to build the gun once the frame prints. If you’re new, give yourself a few hours.
Stuck? Go into Keybase and ask for help in the Deterrence Dispensed or FOSSCAD teams. You can also DM me @en_bloc on Keybase.
Glock Build Instruction Videos
Anything can be misused. I’d be lying if I told you there isn’t the potential for misuse here. But there’s not a strong argument against 3D printed guns to be made. Criminals could print a Glock. Sure. But it would be easier and faster to just buy one illegally on the black or gray market.
However, even if 3D printing were the fastest and easiest way to obtain a Glock, it still wouldn’t make a ban justifiable or enforceable. The idea that a human somewhere can write down some words on paper that govern what I can or cannot make in my own home with my own hands and my own property in the interest of my own defense is ridiculous.
In fact, the Pennsylvania Attorney General just learned the hard way that one looks foolish when trying to write laws that create the potential for “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement”. Laws that are vague and practically unenforceable are a real threat to individual liberty and the health our nation as a whole.
You can see by now that producing a 3D printed Glock is a realistic goal for those inclined to do so. But it’s not as simple as “just hitting the print button” like many politicians and news outlets report. It takes about 18-20 hours to print the frame, and then you have to build the gun from there using parts kits. It takes more effort than many people make it sound like. But you’re also getting a much better firearm than what many people think.
The idea that a criminal can just quickly print off a big scary gun and start shooting people isn’t realistic. There are easier ways to get guns than 3D printing. And the fact that you can get a gun illegally both faster and cheaper than you could via 3D printing means that these guns are almost never used in crimes.
3D printing is a legitimate undertaking that a free person would be able to pursue without a challenge. The government’s ham fisted attempts to prevent this from developing have actually led to an explosion in both the number of people involved in the movement and the quality of the gun files being developed.
You can’t ban printers, and computer code is widely protected as free speech (because it is). Distributed manufacturing and 3D printing is a strong example of modern tech and private sector innovation making slow-moving, sloppily executed government controls obsolete.
Pass whatever gun laws you want. They don’t really matter anymore.