printed ar-15 lower

The New York Post’s Kaja Whitehouse engaged in a sensationalist article today entitled “3D printer and $452 makes on-demand AR-15.” I could easily forgive the writer for a grossly inaccurate headline for the simple reason that journalists typically don’t write their own headlines, but the lede of the article is equally deceptive.

It takes $452 and just 24 hours to build a semi-automatic rifle that falls outside of law enforcement’s radar — thanks to modern technology.

Gilman Louie, a San Francisco venture capitalist who used to run the CIA’s venture arm In-Q-Tel, said he used a 3D printer to make part of an AR-15 that would normally come with a serial number.

Louie got around the restrictions with the help of his Makerbot printer.

Such printers let people make three-dimensional objects from designs created with software.

“It’s the next big boom,” Louie told The Post.

Whitehouse leads the reader to infer that recent 3D plastic printing has created the opportunity to build an AR-15-style rifle “outside of law enforcement’s radar.” This is incredibly deceptive.

The AR-15 has been for sale to civilians in the United States for 50 years (since 1963), and in that time, anyone with access to a machine shop could churn out the part “that would normally come with a serial number,” called the lower receiver.

This is an AR-15 lower receiver.

Shadow Ops Weaponry Ar-15 lower receiver. This is legally a firearm.
Shadow Ops Weaponry Ar-15 lower receiver. This is legally a firearm.

It’s not very impressive, to be honest. The lower receiver is a single piece, typically made of a lightweight aluminum alloy, that holds together the various parts of the firearm that actually do things. There is very little stress on the lower receiver itself, and is has been claimed (with various levels of seriousness) that a lower receiver could be made at home out of heavy cardboard (and they have been made out of wood).

The common aluminum AR-15 lower generally starts life as a chunk of metal, and then milling machines cut away parts until this completed lower receiver is what remains. As far as the government is concerned, this is the part that is legally a firearm. The rest of the parts are just parts.

Below is an 80-percent lower receiver.

80% lower receiver from Shadow Ops Weaponry.
80-percent lower receiver from Shadow Ops Weaponry. This is not a firearm.

The 80% lower receiver is not a completed lower receiver, as the “80-percent” designation suggests, and it is not a legally a firearm. It can be bought and sold like any other piece of property.

The owner of the 80% lower receiver can then (if they so desire) complete the fabrication of the lower with rudimentary shop tools—usually a simple drill press and some jigs. The resulting completed lower is strong, lightweight, and entirely legal “firearm” to which the other parts can be attached to finish a completed rifle, and all for a lot less than the cost of $2,000 printer and hard to find and brittle plastics that have been shown to blow up after repeated use. There are no forms to fill out for such a rifle, and no registration required unless you intend to transfer it to someone else.

People have been building AR-15s on 80% lowers for as long as I can remember, and they a very rarely used in crimes (indeed, rifles of any types are rarely used in crimes). Washington’s assertion that the “modern technology” of 3D printing has created a new capability and opportunity for AR-15 lower receiver manufacture is blatantly, laughably false and designed to incite fear.