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Cody Wilson is at it again.

In my previous post on the topic, I mentioned how Defense Distributed is pushing for, in effect, open-source firearms manufacture, and that at some point in the not-too-distant future, effective firearms will be readily printable with home machines costing less than a thousand dollars.

Cody, apparently, is not content to wait that long.

Enter the Ghost Gunner project.

In effect, it’s a desktop CNC milling machine just big enough to produce an AR-15 lower receiver.  It can’t produce a firearm from a block of aluminum, mind.  It’s not that sophisticated.

What it can do, however, is take a readily-available “80% blank” (the utterly arbitrary percentage that the ATF will allow for sale without it being considered a firearm) lower receiver and mill it out to a functional status.


The first question: Is this a practical means to produce firearms?

The answer is a resounding “maybe”.

The machine itself is in theory going to cost about $1500.  80% blank lowers can be had for less than $100.  Upper receivers, bolt assemblies, stocks and whatnot can be obtained new for as little as $400 in total, ultimately leading to a total cost of around $2000 to produce a single rifle.

Of course, it’s entirely likely that nobody is going to be buying such a machine with the intent of only using it once.

What you’re buying, really, is the ability to produce a functioning semi-automatic rifle, with minimal technical skill required, for noticeably less than such a weapon would cost retail.  The total cost is probably about break-even until the fifth such weapon produced, but there’s nothing preventing you from making more.

Except for that part where you’re not allowed to sell them.

That remains the sticking point in the economics of the matter.  If you were to split the cost with some friends, it rapidly becomes a feasible way to save some small amount of cash on the weapons, particularly if each participant (as is likely) would want more than one.

The mitigating economic factor is that it’s not like the only things the machine can produce are AR-15 receivers.  That’s about the maximum size of object that it’s capable of, and it can’t do complex milling operations, but any reasonably simple part can be churned out pretty easily.  The machine will be using open-source software, and Defense Distributed already intends to release a broader array of designs in the near future.

The second question:  What are the implications of this device?

That’s somewhat more complicated.

I mentioned last time that as the ability to produce weapons in the privacy of your own home increases, the efficacy of firearms regulation will correspondingly decrease until such time as it becomes sufficiently irrelevant that lawmakers will instead focus on ammunition control.

This is the kind of device that will almost undoubtedly prompt attempts to regulate the other parts of the AR-15 platform.

California has, in fact, already attempted to prevent the home manufacture of firearms through its “Ghost Gun ban” bill, forcing any weapon so produced to have a serial number registered with the state.  Suffice to say that the bill was surrounded with a variety of misleading information and hysterical rhetoric, passed the CA State Senate but was vetoed by the governor, and that it’s a foregone conclusion that they’re going to try again, particularly with the intentionally provocative title of the “Ghost Gunner”.

The irony there, of course, is that in attempting to control the machine, they will inevitably spread awareness of it.  I doubt the average criminal is reading Wired or Defense Distributed’s website, but they probably catch the news from time to time.  And while $1500 dollars, plus associated parts, is too expensive for the casual enthusiast, it likely falls quite neatly within the budget of an ambitious criminal enterprise.  And unfortunately, it accelerates the timeline of how long it’s going to take before someone does something horrible with a home-manufactured weapon.

So what does all that mean?

When King Canute ordered his soldiers to beat back the tide, he did so with the knowledge that it was impossible.  It wasn’t a serious effort, but rather an illuminating example to his court on the limitations of government.

An example that has sadly been wasted on all too many.

A wise government does not attempt the impossible.  As manufacturing technology miniaturizes and proliferates, controlling the products of such machines becomes increasingly difficult, and any attempt to do so is not only doomed to fail, but will ultimately serve only to erode and undermine the legitimacy of any government that tries.

Or, in the immortal words of Princess Leia:  The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.