Letter: The Hysteria Surrounding “Ghost Guns”


Letter writer Daniel Eisenstein responds to a letter concerning “ghost guns,” which are made by 3D printers. 

Daniel Eisenstein

Editor’s Note: This letter is in response to a previous letter, “The dangers of ghost guns.”.

On March 29, I gave a presentation about 3D-printed firearms. Specifically, I explained some basic facts, clarified some misconceptions, discussed some recent history and legal developments, explained some projects I undertook and mentioned how an individual could get started on their own. The letter “The Dangers of Ghost Guns” contains misconceptions and logical issues and completely misses the points of the presentation.

A “ghost gun” is nothing more than a spooky-sounding name used by gun control advocates to label homemade firearms, whether they are legal or not. In most U.S. states, if you can legally own a given firearm, you can legally make that given firearm. However, those who manufacture their own firearms need to follow certain rules: they need to make sure they live in a state where it is legal to manufacture their own firearm, the firearm they intend to make is legal to own and they cannot sell or give away that firearm unless they are a licensed firearms dealer.

The letter claims, “Ghost guns are not a harmless hobby. The technique of creating unlicensed, untraceable firearms allows violent criminals, domestic abusers, gun traffickers and anyone else in the U.S. [to] create a firearm frame with ease and without a background check.”

Can homemade firearms be misused? They could be, but this hysteria is misplaced for two reasons, one of the reasons being that 3D-printed firearms can be incredibly unreliable and require multiple iterations to get right. I have had to go back to the drawing board multiple times after the failure of firearms I 3D-printed, including an issue where one fell apart while in use. The other reason is that there are many easier ways for criminals to procure a firearm.

“The Dangers of Ghost Guns” cites a report by Everytown for Gun Safety which claims, “nearly 2,500 ghost guns were connected to criminal activity in 102 federal cases over the past decade.” On one hand, a quick look at federal judicial caseload statistics would show that those 102 federal cases are a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly one million federal criminal filings made in the last decade. On the other hand, part of the presentation I gave cites a survey conducted by the Department of Justice.

The survey asked more than a quarter of a million incarcerated individuals serving time on a charge related to a firearm and how they acquired their firearm. Whether it be an underground market, a straw purchase, a legitimate purchase or stealing a firearm, there are far easier ways for criminals to procure firearms. Virtually no criminals have manufactured their own firearms. The manufacturing of homemade firearms can be a harmless hobby, and for firearm enthusiasts, it is.

The letter goes on to state, “many of these guns were assault-style or machine guns.” “Assault-style” firearms are defined by nothing more than cosmetic characteristics that have nothing to do with the deadliness of a given firearm. Machine guns, however, have been regulated under federal law since the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934, and, since May 19, 1986, the manufacturing of new ones for civilians has been prohibited. Not to mention, Iowa law prohibits them in the state with limited exceptions. They are illegal, whether they are homemade or not and whether a 3D printer was involved or not.

The letter also states another misconception, “3D-printed guns made of plastic are undetectable by metal detectors.” Federal law requires all firearms have at least 3.7 ounces of stainless steel, enough for a metal detector to detect. The only firearm where this may be an issue would be a one-time-use 9mm handgun, known as “The Liberator,” notorious for blowing up due to its plastic chamber and barrel. Other than that, all of the 3D-printable firearms I am aware of already have at least this amount of metal incorporated in the design. Just because a 3D printer is involved does not mean a firearm can evade metal detectors. 

The letter also calls on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to regulate “the unregulated sale of ‘unfinished’ gun-building blocks that can become a fully functioning weapon in less than an hour.” According to federal law, the one piece of a firearm that is legally defined as a firearm is “the frame or receiver of any such weapon.”

This means if you can get your hands on a frame or receiver of a firearm, you can easily purchase the rest of the pieces and make a functional firearm. Likewise, if a chunk of metal or plastic cannot function as a frame or receiver, it isn’t one. Some manufacturers will sell incomplete frames or receivers for people to finish. The person who finishes the piece becomes the legal manufacturer of the firearm. In other words, completing the legal minimum for manufacturing a firearm isn’t a high bar, and it only requires a couple of hand tools

Exactly what stratifies an unfinished frame or receiver is up to interpretation by the ATF. By reconsidering where this line is drawn, that would only incite a cat-and-mouse game. Labeling an unfinished frame or receiver as too close to being finished would only require manufacturers to adjust their product so they are no longer toeing the line. Unless we are going to require treating solid blocks of metal or plastic as firearms, any move by the ATF is bound to be ineffective. 

My presentation was a year in the making in both research and experience, and we made the plan to offer it about a month in advance, as event authorization was required to give a presentation to those who do not affiliate with Students for 2A. We chose to advertise our event with a mass email. After what happened in Atlanta, Georgia, I delayed the email as long as I was allowed to, pursuant to the Student Activities Center mass email approval form. Once I received approval and submitted the request to IT Services, the email was completely out of my hands. Given what happened in Boulder, Colorado, had IT Services afforded us the opportunity to cancel the email, we would have. 

However, we will not apologize for continuing with our organization’s activities. That would contradict our organization’s primary objective, training the best ambassadors for the Second Amendment. That includes engaging with those who vehemently disagree with us. My goals with the presentation were twofold: I wanted to prove that I was capable of making my own firearms, and so can anyone else. For anyone who thinks that homemade firearms should be illegal, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I think you missed the point.

I made my own firearms to prove that I could. If the law ever changes, and I cannot legally do so anymore, I will respect the law. But gun control activists would be foolish to think that restricting the ability for anyone to manufacture their own firearms would stop them from doing so. As of today, homemade, 3D-printed firearms are legal under most circumstances and are unlikely to be used in criminal activity, and they remain one of my favorite personal hobbies.

Daniel Eisenstein is a junior in management information systems.