Bob Owens

The saddest truth in politics is that people get the leaders they deserve

CNC killed the gun control star

Written By: Bob - May• 23•13
The Othermill is an example of the kind of portable, programmable CNC machine that makes actionable gun control a fantasy.

The Othermill is an example of the kind of portable, programmable CNC machine that makes actionable gun control a fantasy.

You may have noticed my complete lack of posting about Cody Wilson and his printed gun technology. The reason for that is simple: it’s a gimmick. Sure, printed guns can work, but the question is inevitably “how long?” When it comes to the catastrophic failure of the thermoplastics used in the construction of the barrels and firing chambers, it isn’t a matter of “if,” but “when.”

As a practical matter, with current and near-term technologies, plastic guns are a loser.

That said, some of the emerging technologies that make plastic guns feasible are viable for metalwork as well, and machines like the crowd-funded Othermill means that CNC metalworking machines will soon be  in the hands of people for a fraction of the cost of the plastic printing machines.

Purely as a practical matter, how long do you think it will be before someone takes an Othermill or similar portable CNC machine, and builds the jigs and writes the code to make finishing an 80% receiver or 80% frame as simple as clicking a button with your mouse?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, all firearms have one part that is legally the gun according to the BATF. For an AR-15, it is the lower receiver. No other parts that make up the firearm are technically a gun, so they are not individually serial numbered, nor tracked.

An 80% receiver (or 80% frame for most pistols) is not a finished part, however, and is not registered with anyone. You can buy as many as you want, and then finish them yourself into a firearm that has not serial number, which does not have to be registered, and which is 100% legal to own under federal law (I don’t know if that holds true in the individual slave states, so comply with your local laws, etc).

While the plastics are a disruptive technology on a political and psychological perspective, they are nearly irrelevant as a practical matter.

The introduction of high-quality, affordable micro million machines which can cheaply finish 80% parts or completely manufacture them from scratch, however, changes the game entirely. When these technologies become commonplace, the concept of “gun control” becomes a complete absurdity, since the equipment to manufacture firearms will be as affordable and commonplace as a crafter’s Sizzix machine.

As a practical matter, gun control is nearly dead. The idiots pushing for it just don’t understand that technology has killed the concept, and that is something that Cody Wilson has nailed with 100% accuracy.

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  1. Big Country says:

    Completely agree Bob. The home CNC construct is far simpler than the ‘printed gun’ meme. Working with a dremel an 80% becomes 100% mighty quickly, and doesn’t even require a lot of skill, other than a steady hand. Although one issue is the 80% receivers are getting harder to find BTW…

  2. Bill says:

    I like the guy. His message was the important part. He called it early and correctly.

  3. Before the idiots closed it, our local TechShop (just off the 540 at US-70 in Raleigh) was humming with gun manufacturing activity. Two guys I know of were finishing AR-15 lowers. One guy made a beautiful (WORKING) Ruger 10/22 lower on the 3D printer. Another guy was making 1911 frames. I was modifying stocks and adding sling loops to my rifles.

    This stuff is more widespread than people think, and you’re right, Bob, while 3D printing gets the headlines, it’s DIY CNC machines that are the truly disruptive technology. CNC machines do not need specialized source material, as do 3D printers. A chunk of aluminum or plastic you get from the hardware store, or online at McMaster-Carr can, in a few hours, become a gun.

    And it’s not that hard.

    • Matt says:

      I didn’t know about the TechShop in Raleigh. The TechShop a few miles from where I live has a Tormach CNC mill. I’m hoping to take a try at milling a few receivers on it myself, particularly AR-10 lowers (none of that pansy .223 for me). I would like to learn how to turn barrels, that’s something I know very little about. I’m a computer guy, not a machinist, but I see no major obstacles to learning and building complete guns from scratch.

  4. Survival Skvez says:

    This is of course why “they” are going after ammunition too.
    They are making “hoarding” a mental illness.
    If you’re mentally ill you can’t have a gun
    If you have more than X rounds of ammo you are hoarding
    See where this is going?
    A gun without ammo is just an expensive, awkward club.

    Forget 10 a round magazine limit how about you’re only allowed to own 10 rounds total!

    • 22lr says:

      A little OT, but my mom was a severe hoarder, and it definitely was a mental illness. It really is becoming clear that severe hoarders have some very characteristic behaviors, and there is objective evidence (from brain imaging studies) that their brains are actually wired differently than most people’s brains. I wouldn’t wish growing up in a severe hoarder’s home on my worst enemy.

    • Wonder True says:

      Must be a lot of mental illness at Homeland Security with all the hoarding going on there,

    • Tom D Perkins says:

      The impairment of an individual’s rights must be held to require the finding by jury, that the person is incompetent. It’s a traditional and reasonable enough standard I think the public can be insistent on it despite the protests of the “medical” professionals and legislators who insist otherwise.

  5. Lurker says:

    um… CNC milling requires actual skill (math too). 3D printing does not. CNC milling does away with SOME of the skills required (mostly the tedious time consuming ones). CNC (and all other milling) is noisy and messy too.

    • Right_2_Bear says:

      I have a background in CAD/CAM and I agree with this. Although the computer eliminates most of the need for heavy Trig calculations, it demands a skill more than just plugging in some generated code.

      Someone attempting to CNC mill a blank into a complex part like a gun receiver is going to need fundamental machining skills and concepts as there is no difference in material handling whether a machine is doing it or a live person. Material, part zero, negative drafts, cutter speed, backlash, head changes, hardness of material, etc. all need to be factored. Certainly CNC machining has made things more efficient but there is an enormous learning curve involved. A newbie that thinks he is going to go and make quality CNC’d parts in a flash is going to be one frustrated individual.

      • Alpheus says:

        While it’s true that it takes skill to make something like this, these kinds of devices are going to make that skill substantially easier to acquire. I took a machining class several years ago, but did not have the means to pursue a degree; nor do I have the means to purchase a Sherline mill and lathe (which would cost about $3000 to set up). But something costing only $300? That’s still out of reach for me, but only just barely!

      • Matt Strictland says:

        It certainly requires more than some skills right now. In the future? Not necessarily as many.

        That said the gun control people will just end up coming after ammo instead. It won’t be easy to enforce but smokeless powder, primers and such are challenging to make.

        Of course with billions of rounds sold a year (so much no one actually knows how much) and no real experiation date , well it will be about as sucessful as any other stupid law

      • John C. says:

        Part of the point of the Liberator 3D printed pistol was that it could be printed from files downloadable from the ‘Net. With similar files for CNC machine tools, and people will have those on the ‘Net if they don’t already, the requirement for the special programming skills will diminish. After all, it requires skills most people don’t have to create 3D printer files also.

  6. STW says:

    Sex can be noisy and messy too but I don’t hear anyone using that as an excuse to stop. Just an observation.

  7. Roger U says:

    Extra points for the Buggles reference!

  8. Drew says:

    Bob, you’re correct about 3d printing. The technology simply isn’t there for durable firearm printing… yet. DIY CNC is the better option for that niche.

    But, since I’m not a nice person, I should point out that like the single shot pistols dropped all over France for resistance fighters in WWII, single shot pistols only have to work once to get the enemy’s weapon when we reach the fighting in the streets stage. Every tool in the toolbox has it’s use.

  9. Lurker says:

    Well by messy I mean sharp metal shavings some of which can be a fire hazard. Also the coolant use in metal cutting tends to get thrown off and splashed around. As for noisy, some things you might do with your garage CNC machine might bring the noise police. 3D printing will one day, maybe soon, be able to print at the molecular level. Then the world changes. Need ammo? Print it. Think the Wright Flyer of 1903 compared to the Boeing 707 of 1958 (or the Sputnik launcher). From novelty to intercontinental passenger jet and spaceflight in 55 years.

    • Gary Olson says:

      If you change the methods of machining from the financial assumption of minimum machine time to decrease cost, change your cut passes to minimal depths with more cut passes, the noise, coolant use, and fire hazards can be significantly reduced. You’d be surprised how quiet a mill can cut when you reduce the cutting RPMs closer to the minimums.

      I can’t wait to see the changes in ammo when powder can be printed in arbitrary asymetric forms with non-linear burn rates.

  10. Roger U says:

    If anybody’s interested, here a good site with downloads.

  11. bryan says:

    the idea entering mainstream via their forceful paranoiac denunciations took a nerd pastime and introduced the world the next disruptive set of technologies.

    this has the possibility to change the world in ways we all can scarcely imagine, and the joy of seeing it introduced as individualistic action on matter wrapped in a cloak of liberty.

    what could be better? i know of which i speak – here now, doing it. this is truly revolutionary, like flight, bigger than computers, like instant worldwide information.

    put you down as our inspiration for appleseed in mid june, bob. keep it up my friend.

  12. FC says:

    I’m not a materials engineer either, but I say printed guns will work just fine. So there.

  13. Seerak says:

    Forgotten the lessons of 1990’s era cyberlibertarians who thought the Internet would be the death knell for authoritarian government? It took less than ten years for government (China in particular) to adapt to that challenge. I doubt it will take them that long to adapt to this one.

    • TMLutas says:

      Wall and clone works ok for Web 2.0 technology but is hopeless to stop Web 3.0 because of the nature of the tech. China cannot have it without giving up lying and that is one thing that authoritarian societies cannot survive, the truth. IPv6 address space, RDF and widespread sensors built into consumer tech will be fatal for them. They are stuck on Web 2.0 and have to forego the next Internet revolution or they have to fundamentally shift gears.

  14. Lee Reynolds says:

    Gun control isn’t about controlling guns, but controlling people. A free people with the political power that comes from the barrel of a gun cannot be enslaved. The most you can do is try to kill them…at your peril. But a people who are no longer free, and who have forfeited their individual political power to the state, they can be enslaved. In fact, they already are.

    Only tyrants fear and despise empowered citizens. Government of the people, by the people, for the people depends on the people possessing not only the will to exert political force, but the means by which to do it. There is no such thing as democracy in a nation where individual citizens have been stripped of their political power.

  15. elkh1 says:

    Onto ammunitions control. First control the magazine size, then civilians are only allowed to purchase rubber bullets for their recreational use.

    You want real bullets? You want to kill someone? Since a stray bullet might impact someone’s health, bullets will be regulated under Obamacare, bullet buyers will be targeted by IRS for audits, by FBI to establish terrorist link, by ATF to make sure the bullets you bought are never used, by USPS to make sure the suppliers have not committed mail fraud.

    They may not be able to take away your guns, they can make your guns useless.

  16. A-train says:

    Seerak — China won the Internet? Or are they somewhat managing a technology that they wish didn’t exist?

  17. tom swift says:

    I don’t get the excitement at all. “New technology”, whether cheap computer-controlled machine tools or expensive computer-controlled printers, doesn’t have anything to do with it, except to the trivial extent that they perhaps make an easy job slightly easier. CNC makes metal fabrication CHEAPER. That’s it. But it’s not needed. The famous guns of the last century? 1911s, Lugers, P-38s, PPKs, Garands, Police Positive Specials, Agents, Undercovers, Chief’s Specials – every one made on tools with a human twiddling the dials. No computers at all. “80% receivers” can be finished with machine tools no more complicated than a drill press (though a real vertical mill such as the famous Bridgeport would make a better and much faster job of it). The receiver of a semi-auto AKM (which the press consistently calls an AK-47) can be fabbed from a piece of sheet metal, a hand drill and a vise. And of course, a hammer (though despite the gun’s origin, no sickle is needed).

    The point is, home fabrication of a firearm is easily within the capabilities of anyone with the most modest manual skills, a few very common tools, and those things protected by the First Amendment; instructions. This has been true for most of the past century. Yet we haven’t been buried in a flood of homemade guns. I’ve been buying or handling guns for decades and have yet to see a single homemade specimen (not including those made in my own basement shop). What limits a tsunami of homemade guns doesn’t seem to be lack of suitable tools or poor mechanical skills in the population, but pure lack of need. It’s just much simpler to buy one, legally or illegally, than to make one. In other words, guns made via printing or CNC machining or manual machining appeal to people to like to make things, rather than to people who want guns. That isn’t likely to change radically just because some new-fangled computer printer or home-workshop CNC tools come along.

  18. ajacksonian says:

    Use the following words in a search engine of your choice: CNC home gunsmith.

    A decent HF 8×20 lathe is under $1000, and it will need to be tuned which is why the folks at Little Machine Shop have put packages together for many of the low end lathes, mills and even mill/drill/lathe rigs. For a bit more you can find one properly worked over that works out of the box.

    Digital Read Out or DRO controls that send signals to a computer are a bit costly, yes, and you need to retrofit your lathe with them so that your computer can control the lathe, mill or mill/drill/lathe. After that is calibrating your machine, putting in the necessary off-sets into your computer software package, which is Open Source.

    There is an Open Source machining community and their goal is to make the machine that can make all its own parts under computer control. Which means it can be modified by downloads, raw feed stock and time and effort. With an Open Source machining package you then can either utilize pre-existing encoded designs, and any firearm over 16 years old is off patent, put in the feed stock, set up your lubrication system to enhance the cutting of materials and you are set to go. Cost is approx. $5k with your investment in learning time and effort an overhead cost.

    You can also find digital systems for converting existing designs into new digital ones via a digital conversion device that measures in 3D or via using Open Source or freeware CADAM software, which is an additional learning curve on your part. For a lathe you can purchase a dupli-lathe and just attach that to your system, capture the digital readouts and produce an exact copy of what is on the lathe all at the same time.

    John Browning would be envious of such a rig and its adaptability.

    For those worried about the oppression of government I will suggest the Gingery books on the methodology to get up and running with scrap/junk parts (such as motors) to a reliable lathe. Once you have a lathe and know how to use it, the rest of what you have to do is much easier. Still sand casting aluminum is a required skill, luckily aluminum has a low melting point and is easy to work with.

    The only thing missing out of this is the home smelter, which has been something artists working in iron and steel have been going after the last few years. There are also designs for how to change your propane grill into a smelter and do a lot of other fun stuff with heating metals that used to take a pretty huge rig to do, but now packs up to the size of your backyard portable grill.

    80% machining is perfectly legal. Montana wants to get out from BATFE regulation by pointing out that intrastate arms sales of citizen to citizen is something outside of federal reach and that States should be able to have whatever sort of intrastate sales that its citizens want, particularly as part of the Militia. Other States have joined MT in that quest and if you want to support the 2nd Amendment then getting the grip of the federal government down at the local and State level is vital. There are quite a few small operations that want to go commercial past 80% receivers and feel that the BATFE should have no say in what they sell to citizens of their own State. Once that starts up the BATFE starts to look like a dead letter organization because the barrier to entry has dropped precipitously over the last three decades. Mr. Owen is right. This cat is out of the bag and now making its own litters and they are starting to get into home workshops in a neighborhood near you.

  19. Tom D Perkins says:

    I think you’re right and you’re wrong. Very wrong.

    This is correct in concept:

    “The idiots pushing for it just don’t understand that technology has killed the concept, and that is something that Cody Wilson has nailed with 100% accuracy.”

    The ability to manufacture receivers and barrels from raw or commonly found re-purposed parts must be made ubiquitous, and also the manufacture of useful ammunition. A critical mass of people who trust each other not use them them and to use them, must be assembled, and that soon.

    We aren’t nearly there yet.*

    In the panics which all but must ensue from the 100 year bubble in government, who can doubt it is a reasonable concern the powers that be will attempt to preserve their relevance by adopting the practices which both perfectly justify rebellion and make it even by these means discussed here, an abjectly desperate thing to undertake?

    If the whole of the bill of rights is a dead letter, and we are set on pain of death to spend a good chunk of our time randomly observing each other in a Panopticon of mandatory networked cameras–and are direly responsible for catching misbehavior–even the means discussed here are insufficient to make success likely.

    ““Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” – C. S. Lewis”

    The Progressives have for 150 years or more now been just such moral busybodies, whether they are the Bible or Das Kapital thumping sort, what they have lacked is the relative omnipotence.

    We The People need to get to that point of relative omnipotence first with the most. The militia needs geeks.

    Musk seems to be a fairly practical sort but I have no reason to doubt he would avail himself of an opportunity to put his competition in jail if he could and he’ll certainly suck government teat if it’s hung in front of him, Gates is a statist of the worst Davos Conference sort, and Google’s Schimdt must not know what evil is–he keeps on doing it.

    I’m a dab hand at electronics and process control, I don’t even know if it is legal to practice the chemistry the effort requires without being under the government thumb, and I’d like to save my felonies for something really important.

    *Of course many there are feds, many are not. Keep it legal for your part, and lurk and read a lot.

  20. What all this means is that they’ll switch to ammunition control instead of gun control.

  21. bill says:

    The gun control issue is not about technology, it is about the 2nd ammendment. Who cares if personal milling machines can finish 80% lowers if 80% lowers are outlawed? Remember that the last time the supreme court considered a 2nd ammendment case, it was only 1 vote that saved our rights. Now with Roberts defecting to the left on Obamacare, who knows what might happen. “Right and Wrong” doesn’t matter anymore when the enemy has no integrity.