Saturday marked two months since the launch of The Reload. Thanks to the support of our paid members, it also marked the first trip to provide on-the-ground coverage of a one-of-a-kind event in the gun world: the first-ever Gun Makers Match.
I went down to St. Augustine, Florida, to meet some of the people who like to build their own unserialized firearms, whether through milling out unfinished parts or printing them from scratch. The shoot comes as homemade firearms have become more attainable for the average person and, therefore, more popular. It also comes as the practice is increasingly under fire from gun-control activists who fear its misuse by criminals and want to ban it altogether.
So, I thought going to meet some of the Americans building homemade guns could provide further insight into what motivates them. I want to be able to relay their point of view, often in their own words, to people who might not otherwise understand what drives hobbyist gun builders. I think it’s invaluable to hear why somebody might want to design and build their own “ghost guns,” especially as the political atmosphere around the age-old practice begins to heat up and President Joe Biden attempts to restrict it.
I interviewed a bunch of makers, and you can expect a lot of reporting on the event this week. But, first, I wanted to give you a few of my immediate impressions.
3D printing of guns has come a long way since the first Liberator debuted back in 2013. And it still has a long way to go. The community surrounding it is passionate and industrious enough to push things much further than they are now.
Following the dozens of builders across the collection of stages as they push their builds to the breaking point and, sometimes, beyond it, made it clear the community has already worked out ways around the pitfalls of using plastic in high-stress areas of firearms. Many have already moved beyond simply printing exact copies of traditional gun designs and into new designs intended to be printed. They’ve become incredibly durable and can withstand hundreds or thousands of rounds without breaking down.
And, while most designs simply replace the receiver of a traditional gun design with a new 3D-printed alternative, some of the most ambitious builders have moved to printing everything but the barrel, springs, and bolt. There was an entire side stage at the match just for those builds.
Of course, those designs are still pushing the limits of the current technology, and most of them had difficulty reliably finishing the entire stage. But these sorts of builds weren’t around at all a decade ago, and there’s no telling how much more reliable they will be in another decade.
But you don’t have to wait another decade for new techniques or technologies to perfect 3D printed guns to build a homemade gun as reliable as anything you can buy at the store. One thing that was abundantly obvious watching the match is that injection molded 80% builds were basically on par with any Glock or Smith & Wesson you could pick up from Cabela’s. Other than aesthetics, there’s not much difference between the Polymer 80 or JSD Supply gun builds people had and any modern polymer-framed gun on the market.
The one I shot felt exactly like shooting any Glock I’ve ever shot. It’s the easy path to home gun making. While you can literally make a 3D-printed gun look like almost anything (like this example, nicknamed “Dragonface”), you have to put dozens of hours into the actual print and finishing process.
With 80% lowers, the process involved drilling a few holes and pockets for the various parts to fit into and maybe bending or trimming some metal to the right spec. Of all the guns at the event, these two Polymer 80 builds are the ones I was most interested in trying for myself. I’ve always enjoyed building ARs from already-made parts. Building from either a fully-finished frame or an 80% lower and a parts kit seems the closest to that on the handgun side of things. I wouldn’t mind expanding my horizons to new categories of guns.
Besides, I like a good Gucci Glock. Just not the price tag associated with most of them. Same goes for fancy ARs, which is why I prefer to build them myself. Perhaps I should start doing that with handguns too?
Printing seems far more involved than I’m willing to get. I’m sure many people might expect gun building to be a hobby dominated by stereotypical spec-ops tacticool bros, but the technical nature of 3D printing means the community is actually much more intellectual and nerdy. The term “Comic-Con of Guns” was tossed around more than once. The different printing techniques and materials for making the most robust receivers were the hot topics of the day on the range, not who had the best time through each stage.
President Biden’s effort to restrict the sale of unfinished gun parts or the building of unserialized “ghost guns” was on people’s minds. But it never rose above what really interested everyone: the tech. While the community is largely driven by a kind of anarcho-libertarian approach to gun regulation, you’re far more likely to hear the attendees talk about the best filament to use or ideal infill percentage or even electrochemical machining for homemade barrel rifling.
Where the Pistol Brace Ban Stands
The number of comments on President Joe Biden’s proposal to effectively ban most pistol braces keeps rising. By the time you read this, there are likely to be over 100,000. Most of the comments, perhaps literally every single one (I couldn’t find a single supportive comment when looking through dozens of them), are deeply opposed to the idea.
That complicates the future of the proposal. While President Donald Trump pushed through the bumpstock ban despite a negative reception during the public comment period, he and President Barack Obama both withdrew other restrictive rule changes related to guns after significant pushback. President Trump’s pulled his proposal to restrict pistol braces after the gun industry applied significant pressure. President Obama’s attempt to ban the sale of “green tip” 5.56 NATO ammunition, commonly used in AR-15s, was withdrawn after more than 300,000 negative comments were submitted.
The current proposal to ban most pistol braces is on pace to match that amount of comments, and the industry is working to apply pressure as well. But it may take more to move Biden, who has spent decades advocating for much stricter gun laws across the board, than it did Trump or Obama.
I see three realistic paths for things to move from here. One, the mountain of comments and opposition from the gun industry convinces the Biden Administration to pull the proposal, and it’s never officially adopted. That’s the best-case scenario and would likely save the brace makers and keep millions of Americans from being turned into felons basically overnight.
However, the Biden administration could ignore the flood of negative comments and plow ahead with the plan. Once the proposal is officially adopted, the industry and gun-rights group sue to have it thrown out. As was recently the case with the bumpstock ban case in the Sixth Circuit, they may even succeed. However, just as with bumpstocks, that victory may come too late to save brace makers, and a years-long legal battle will have effectively choked off the supply of braces.
The third possibility is the comments are ignored, the proposal is adopted, but the courts decide to give the ATF wide latitude in interpreting the law. That would likely end the brace-making business altogether and leaving a legal cloud over millions of American gun owners.
I’ve got a lot of great pictures and interviews from the Gun Makers Match coming this week. So, make sure you check back in on the site to see some of that upcoming reporting.
Also, we haven’t done a Q&A in a while. Let me know what topics you guys would like to see a Q&A for, and I’ll make sure we schedule one soon.
That’s it for this week. I’ll talk to you all again soon!