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3D guns often compare poorly, more expensive than real firearms

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With increasing availability of technical information needed to produce guns with a 3D printer, experts and critics aren't sure whether that will ever become practical enough an endeavor to supplant purchasing a handgun legally -- or illegally. File Photo by Erik S. Lesser/EPA

By Ray Downs, UPI

3D-printed guns have made headlines this week and there are many questions about the plastic, homemade firearms. But there aren't many answers.

As of now, 3D-printed guns are virtually unregulated and untraceable. All a person needs is a blueprint for the gun, which are readily available online for free, the plastic materials to make the gun, and a 3D printer to put the contraption together.

Accuracy of any firearm mostly depends on the shooter, but like ordinary guns, some 3D-printed guns are higher-quality than others and provide for more efficient aiming than others.

[post_ads]Because the technology is so new and so little-used, there aren't many official tests to determine performance. There's a CNN report based on a 53-second video from 2013 that has been oft-cited in recent days, and Vice produced a 3D gun documentary, also in 2013.

But there's no definitive answer for how well 3D guns compare to traditional guns.

The printer is the biggest obstacle to getting one's hands on a 3D-printed gun. While basic 3D printers can be bought for under $500, these are unlikely to be able to print a usable firearm as of now. To print a usable gun, one would need a 3D printer that costs upwards of $2,000. Even then, 3D-printing technology is still in its early stages and guns made with basic pro-sumer printers have been known to fall apart after firing a single shot.

There are 3D-printers that can create metal objects, including higher-quality guns, but they cost upwards of $100,000. Tests in 2013 show a metal 3D-printed gun is capable of shooting about 50 times.

Unless money is no object for an owner, 3D-gun printing might be considered by some a cost-prohibitive endeavor that's more difficult than simply buying a gun.

One concern in the debate is that having blueprints available might enable criminals or those barred from buying a weapon to make their own. Some gun rights supporters, though, told NBC News they likely won't bother with 3D-printed guns when they can spend less to buy one unlawfully.
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"I think it makes little practical difference in the Unites States, because with a black market, people who shouldn't have guns are still able to buy them anyway," said David Kopel, professor at the University of Denver law school.

Then there's also the option of making a gun the old-fashioned way, as some people have been doing for hundreds of years all over the world, including the United States.

Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist who's recently become a political commentator on Twitter, had this to say about the 3D gun hype: "Who the hell is gonna print a gun that's the worst gun in the world when you can just buy a gun?"

Technology moves fast, and although 3D-printing is expensive and rare at the moment, the ability to easily create dangerous weapons in one's household may not be far off.

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