THIS IS MY ghost gun. To quote the rifleman?s creed, there are many like it, but this one is mine. It?s called a ?ghost gun??a term popularized by gun control advocates but increasingly adopted by gun lovers too?because it?s an untraceable semiautomatic rifle with no serial number, existing beyond law enforcement?s knowledge and control. And if I feel a strangely personal connection to this lethal, libertarian weapon, it?s because I made it myself, in a back room of WIRED?s downtown San Francisco office on a cloudy afternoon.
I did this mostly alone. I have virtually no technical understanding of firearms and a Cro-Magnon man?s mastery of power tools. Still, I made a fully metal, functional, and accurate AR-15. To be specific, I made the rifle?s lower receiver; that?s the body of the gun, the only part that US law defines and regulates as a ?firearm.? All I needed for my entirely legal DIY gunsmithing project was about six hours, a 12-year-old?s understanding of computer software, an $80 chunk of aluminum, and a nearly featureless black 1-cubic-foot desktop milling machine called the Ghost Gunner.
The Ghost Gunner is a $1,500 computer-numerical-controlled (CNC) mill sold by Defense Distributed, the gun access advocacy group that gained notoriety in 2012 and 2013 when it began creating 3-D-printed gun parts and the Liberator, the world?s first fully 3-D-printed pistol. While the political controversy surrounding the notion of a lethal plastic weapon that anyone can download and print has waxed and waned, Defense Distributed?s DIY gun-making has advanced from plastic to metal. Like other CNC mills, the Ghost Gunner uses a digital file to carve objects out of aluminum. With the first shipments of this sold-out machine starting this spring, the group intends to make it vastly easier for normal people to fabricate gun parts out of a material that?s practically as strong as the stuff used in industrially manufactured weapons.
The Ghost Gunner may signal a new era where the barrier to building an untraceable semiautomatic rifle is lower than ever before.
In early May, I got a Ghost Gunner, the first of these rare CNC mills loaned to a media outlet, and I tried it out. I?m going to give away the ending: Aside from a single brief hardware hiccup, it worked remarkably well. In fact, the Ghost Gunner worked so well that it may signal a new era in the gun control debate, one where the barrier to legally building an untraceable, durable, and deadly semiautomatic rifle has reached an unprecedented low point in cost and skill.
But the Ghost Gunner represents an evolution of amateur gun-making, not a revolution. Homebrew gunsmiths have been making ghost guns for years, machining lower receivers to legally assemble rifles that fall outside the scope of American firearms regulations. In fact, when we revealed the Ghost Gunner?s existence last year, the comments section of my story flooded with critics pointing out that anyone can do the same garage gunsmithing work with an old-fashioned drill press.
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