Forget 3-D Printing: When It Comes to DIY Guns, There's a Much Bigger Danger

When it comes to gun control, one of the biggest issues has always been the question of where one can buy weapons. After the Kennedy assassination, for example, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1968 Gun Control Act, which made it illegal to sell rifles and shotguns through the mail. Later, in 1993, the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act instituted background checks on gun sales, unless the sale occurs at a gun show. That little loophole has led to a thriving gun show business, a factor that still bedevils reformers attempting to regulate gun sales.

These days, one of the biggest concerns with gun access revolves around 3-D printers, particularly around the possibility that a shooter could produce an unregistered weapon in the privacy of his or her home. But, for all the fuss about 3-D printers, a much bigger -- and more dangerous -- gun loophole is looming.

Recently, Mother Jones reporter Bryan Schatz told the story of how he constructed a fully-functioning, perfectly legal semiautomatic AK-47 assault rifle. Most of the parts came from disassembled guns that were made elsewhere and are totally legal to sell. The receiver -- basically, the only part whose sale is closely regulated -- had to be constructed by hand, a process that took Schatz a few hours in a machine shop.

Homemade AK-47s are legal, as long as the owner doesn't have a criminal record. They also don't have serial numbers, which makes them basically untraceable and impossible to regulate. And, unlike a 3-D printed handgun, AK-47s can fire ten rounds per second, are extremely durable, and can be easily repaired or replaced.

But what about price? Most 3-D printers that are capable of printing a gun cost over $1,000, making them a far from economical choice when it comes to firearms. While Schatz was circumspect about the cost of his gun, it's possible to buy basic AK-47 kits online for as little as $119. A brand-new barrel (the original barrels are cut into pieces) costs another $200 or so, and -- assuming one has the proper tools -- the cost of making areceiver is negligible. If one goes to a "buildparty," like the one Schatz attended, the price drops more.

In other words, while 3-D printed guns may be the cutting edge of technology, the biggest safety danger on the market is a bit more modest: 65-year-old, extremely common bit of battlefield armament that can be constructed in a garage and ordered on the internet.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.