The end of gun control: Digital DIY

Update: It has happened: A legal ban on digital DIY files

It seems obvious to Europeans that legal gun control is necessary. This is not just a majority opinion; it is the consensus, a political non-issue. We think that use for hunting or sport is OK but that a civilian should not own a gun for self-defence - or only under very special circumstances. We want the state to control gun sales and the carrying of guns.

But that is wishful thinking: If a criminal really wants, they can buy a gun or make one in a specialised metal workshop, perhaps purchasing other parts like the barrel or ammunition. In this race between law enforcement (police) and criminals, there is no clear winner, but acquiring such weapons carries a high risk. It’s like opium, which you can buy and sell, but there is high risk, too (which might be changing, as Anders Sandberg (2015) points out).

The risk with guns is now disappearing: You can now buy the ‘Ghost Gunner’ for a mere $1500. This is an automated, digitally driven 3D CNC machine, the size of a laser printer, that turns a few blocks of metal into the ‘lower receiver’ of a military semi-automatic rifle, to which you can fit a barrel and a handle of your choice. As the advertisement goes:

“With simple tools and point and click software, the machine automatically finds and aligns to your 80% lower to get to work. No prior CNC knowledge or experience is required to manufacture from design files. Legally manufacture unserialized AR-15's in the comfort and privacy of your home.” (

The makers of the Ghost Gunner just want the ‘freedom of information’ ( for the digital description that drives the CNC machine. They are just playing. As you do with music files, downloaded books, or movies. In fact, they just defend ‘free speech’ and want to freely spread their design on the Internet – and they don’t think that “Some information is too dangerous to be on the Internet” (unlike me, in 2006). The lawsuit is ongoing (Wired 2015).

The danger about Ghost Gunner and its relatives is not just that some people will have guns who should not, which is bad enough. The real danger is that Ghost Gunner will undermine all gun control – and that is exactly their point.

Gun control relies on the ability of the state to enforce it. As I explained in “Gun control: A European perspective” (Müller 2015), if the state cannot actually control the spreading of guns then it becomes rational for more people to buy a gun for themselves. It is a typical ‘social contract’ situation that breaks down if the contract is not enforced – this is what already happened with digital music, for example. Similar things would happen with traffic and parking: If there is no police controlling then everybody does whatever they want, and we all suffer. The ‘state of nature’, Thomas Hobbes (1651) said, is ‘a war of all against all’.

The digital DIY of weapons will be a real war of all against all.

[This is a sample of the many risks of digital DIY.]

Vincent C. Müller


Vincent C. Müller's picture

Here is some 3D printed ammunition, also: It still needs a cartridge, but that should not be a hindrance for the smart kid on the block.

Vincent C. Müller's picture

I Made an Untraceable AR-15 ‘Ghost Gun’ in My Office—And It Was Easy

Wouter Tebbens's picture

Hi Vincent,

we read with great interest your post and articles about the topics of gun control and dangerous information. We have written a reply in the form of a blog post drawing lessons from the cryptowars and war on filesharing putting it in perspective. In any case we remain open to see any desirable and workable regulatory solution to different forms of "dangerous information".