Why the Firearms Industry Doesn’t Care About 3-D Printed Guns

As policy makers and advocates debate the future of 3-D printed firearms, gun makers are sitting out the battle. They have little to gain, or lose, by wading into this particular firestorm. 

Gun control advocates argue that these firearms, which don’t have to be registered with the government, pose a threat to public safety. Gun rights advocates argue that banning these designs would infringe on their rights. The debate came to a head Tuesday morning, when President Donald Trump tweeted that he was looking into the issue and woulddiscuss it with the National Rifle Association.

These guns have been the subject of a series of legal battles this summer. In June, the State Department settled with Austin-based Defense Distributed, allowing the non-profit to post printing instructions for firearms parts on its website. Democratic attorneys general in eight states as well as the District of Columbia asked a federal court for an emergency restraining order to temporarily bar the company from uploading the files, and Senate Democrats said they would introduce legislation to ban the practice. 

On Tuesday afternoon, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewalsaid a judge had ordered Defense Distributed not to upload any additional files to its site until a September hearing.

Despite the recent attention, Americans have long been allowed to build firearms without obtaining a license, so long as they are for personal use and don't violate the National Firearms Act. Prohibited persons, such as those with domestic violence convictions, are barred from building their own guns, just as they are unable to purchase guns from a retailer. Though building a gun for personal use is legal, it is considered more of a niche strategy rather than the go-to method for obtaining a firearm in the U.S. 

“It’s always been possible for somebody to DIY make a firearm in their garage, using traditional machining methods,” said Larry Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which lobbies on behalf of gun makers. “We don’t think it at all likely that people will spend $10,000 or more to obtain a 3-D printer and the materials to print with, and download the files, to make an item that is not reliable, doesn’t work very well, and will probably fall apart in short order.” 

American Outdoor Brand Corp., formerly known as Smith & Wesson, lists a variety of risks to its business in company filings, but did not include 3-D printing among them. The gun maker referred questions on the matter to NSSF. 

“For now, it seems the major firearms manufacturers seem to be staying far away from 3-D printed guns,” said Rommel T. Dionisio, a gun industry analyst at Aegis Capital Corp. Manufacturers likely want to maintain “brand identity and product quality,” as well as relationships with firearms retailers, he said.

“People have always rebuilt engines,” Keane said, as an example. But “people building homemade cars never had an impact on General Motors.” 

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