Worries about 3-D guns are overblown, experts say

03/08/2014 4:57 PM

03/12/2014 9:05 AM

Jeremy Weinman and Brian Brown share at least two things.

They both use 3-D printers to make things.

And they’ve both noticed that many of their customers seem eager to know whether a 3-D printer can replicate a real gun. Out of plastic. Which means airport scanners won’t be set off in the way a steel gun would set them off.

Both men said it’s the first question their customers ask when they come in: Can you make a gun with a 3-D printer?

“And the answer is, no, you can’t make a gun – at least not a good gun,” Brown said.

You could get off one shot, though.

Brown helps run a computer-aided design laboratory for the National Institute for Aviation Research. Weinman is vice president of Rapid PSI, a 3-D manufacturing company.

Both men said you can make a gun that looks real.

But after that first shot, the gun would be ruined, from the chamber pressure and the heat of the bullet’s discharge, Brown said.

Weinman said he’s noticed the same thing with Rapid’s customers. In the conference room at Rapid PSI, they have a 3-D printer costing about $2,800 and about the size of a small microwave oven. When customers see it, he said, they ask about printing guns. And no, they don’t print guns at Rapid PSI.

The worry is whether this new technology will threaten safety on airliners or in buildings like the Sedgwick County Courthouse, where everyone walks through a body scanner and puts their belongings through an X-ray machine before entering.

Darrell Haynes, who commands the courthouse police department, said plastic gun fears are overblown.

“When we run everything through the X-ray machines, the distinct shapes still show up, even if made of plastic,” he said.

A plastic gun would still require a metal firing pin to work, and bullets made of metal. All of which they look for.

“We’re not worried,” he said. “Other things come through that we worry about more.”

Like?

“Knives,” he said. “And sometimes a real gun.”

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