Only ten states plus Washington, DC, have local laws that attempt to regulate ghost guns. They are virtually unregulated federally, but the Biden administration has proposed new rules that would require serial numbers on certain unfinished parts and restrict mail-order kits, which the president singled out in an April speech at the White House.“The buyers aren’t required to pass a background check to buy the kit to make the gun,” President Joe Biden said. “Consequently, anyone from a criminal to a terrorist can buy this kit and, in as little as 30 minutes, put together a weapon.” But building a 3D-printed gun from scratch, as I learned, takes a lot longer than half an hour. And while there’s evidence of extremists and criminals seeking to exploit the untraceability of ghost guns, there is also a nerdy group of designers and tinkerers who insist they are strictly abiding by gun laws and enjoying a “very loud” hobby.
To meet these gunmakers and get a true sense of what 3D-printed guns are capable of these days, I decided to enter the shooting contest in Florida—and build my own ghost gun.
Shopping for the Ghost Gun
Printing the Gun
Wilson is a polarizing figure in the gun world. In 2018, he was arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl he met through SugarDaddyMeet.com. He pleaded guilty to injuring a child, a third-degree felony, and received seven years of probation. In addition to hosting 3D-gun files, Wilson also sells a machine called The Ghost Gunner, which helps convert unfinished parts into AR-15s and other guns. “The files are literally everywhere in a perfect fluid explosion on the internet,” Wilson said. “It's not supposed to be legal, and yet we found a way to make it legal.”To get the files from Wilson’s site, I had to verify my identity and sign up for a membership, bringing the total gun budget to just under $400, still cheaper than a brand-new Glock. But when my frame came off the printer (a 16-hour process), there were a few glaring differences. For one, mine did not have a serial number; instead it had the words “Ghost Gun” literally printed on the handle. It was also rough around the edges, not yet ready for the metal parts to be inserted.
For years, the U.S. government tried to limit sharing of 3D-printed gun blueprints through the State Department’s powers over international arms exports.
Shooting the Ghost Glock
Art That Can Kill
When I pointed out that most art isn’t also a deadly weapon, Guetzloe replied, “It could be used for harm. But I feel like most people that are going to do that are going to go out and steal one. The amount of effort that you put into these, you're not going to do that just to go and do someone harm.”Even after 22 hours of work, my gun didn’t work properly. At the competition, it jammed repeatedly, and I was unable to finish round one of the contest. Pincus suggested swapping on a Glock-brand slide and barrel, which he had on hand. The factory part plus a little bit of gun oil made all the difference. I loaded a clip into the gun and racked the new slide, which smoothly locked into place. Taking aim at a target, I squeezed off a few rounds in a row. The spent shell casings popped out of the chamber and were instantly replaced by fresh bullets; my semi-automatic gun finally worked semi-automatically. To test what it could do, I unloaded the rest of the clip rapid-fire—boom-boom-boom-boom. There were no jams. It worked (almost) like a real Glock.
“Art is in the eye of the beholder, right? This is just a way of expressing ourselves,” Guetzloe said. “It's freedom of expression in a much louder way.”
Law Enforcement Isn’t Thrilled With 3D Guns
The gun control group Everytown Law is also suing Polymer80 and other ghost gun makers. One case, which also involves the city of Los Angeles, accuses the company of creating a public nuisance and violating California’s business code. According to the LAPD’s chief, 700 ghost guns seized in the city last year were made from Polymer80 parts, including more than 300 in South LA, where homicides have been on the rise.“Untraceable ghost guns are now the emerging guns of choice across the nation,” LA City Attorney Mike Feuer said when announcing the lawsuit in February. “Nobody who could buy a serialized gun and pass a background check would ever need a ghost gun. Yet we allege Polymer80 has made it easy for anyone, including felons, to buy and build weapons that pose a major public safety threat.”
“Untraceable ghost guns are now the emerging guns of choice across the nation.”