They still can’t make bullets from a 3-D printer

gunpowder explosionby ali graney

“Download this gun”: 3D-printed semi-automatic fires over 600 rounds
[Via Ars Technica]

Cody Wilson, like many of his Texan forebears, is fast-talkin’ and fast-shootin’—but unlike his predecessors in the Lone Star State, he’s got 3D printing technology to further his agenda.

Wilson’s non-profit organization, Defense Distributed, released a video this week showing a gun firing off over 600 rounds—illustrating what is likely to be the first wave of semi-automatic and automatic weapons produced by the additive manufacturing process.

Last year, his group famously demonstrated that they could use a 3D-printed “lower” for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle—but the gun failed after six rounds. Now, after some re-tooling, Defense Distributed has shown that it has fixed the design flaws and can seemingly fire for quite awhile. (The AR-15 is the civilian version of the military M16 rifle.)


I expect bullets will be a focal point for control. They are a chemical device, not a mechanical one, so 3-D printing will not be a complete path. The government can;t really control 3-D making of guns. But it might make a grab for the gunpowder required.

Put a high tax on bullets that can be bought will be one route. Regulating the chemicals – gunpowder, primer, etc. – will be another. Sure, people who really wanted to make bullets could but it would not be easy.  Producing gunpowder in the high volumes and high quality needed for firearms is not easy. It is liable to blow up. Black powder, the easiest to make, leaves a lot of residue, fouling the barrel. It can be used though in a pinch.

From what I read, modern smokeless gunpowder relies on nitrocellulose and other accelerants like salts of picric acid . These can be highly explosive, requiring simply a physical shock to detonate..

I have a personal story about picric acid. As a post-doc, I was helping clean out the lab, taking stuff off of shelves for cleaning. On a high shelf, about 6 feet off the ground was an old bottle of picric acid – about a pound of it – that had gone to dryness. Picric acid is highly unstable when dry. Simply dropping it could cause it to explode. It has a detonation velocity comparable to nitroglycerin.

I slowly backed out of the room, told everyone to leave and called the bomb squad. If it has fallen, the resulting explosion would have been devastating. Here is what just a few grams can do. Here is an explosion from perhaps 4 ounces. My bottle was at least 4 times greater. 

Making a useful modern gunpowder is not easy and can be quite deadly. Even the pros have problems.

But then, making meth can be deadly also. I expect that if gunpowder was highly regulated, illicit makers would pop up.

It would cost a whole lot more than a few hundred dollars to get 1000 bullets though.