Online backlash to incoming rules that will place new requirements on privately made firearms has included extremists urging followers to learn 3D printing in order to “clandestinely produce weapons that are useful to us” and disregard the law.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it received 1,758 reports of privately made firearms recovered by law enforcement in connection with criminal investigations in 2016; by 2021, that jumped to 19,344. Between January 2016 and December 2021, ATF said, there were 692 reports of these guns being involved in homicide or attempted homicide investigations.
A license is not required to make a firearm for personal use, only for sale or distribution. Guns must also have a metal component, as firearms that cannot be detected by security screening equipment are not legal.
Under the rules intended to address the proliferation of hard-to-trace “ghost guns,” retailers will have to run background checks on customers buying kits that contain the parts needed to assemble a gun. Retailers will also be required to keep records for however long they are licensed, expanding past the prior 20-year retention requirement.
ATF said the rule “clarifies that the definition of ‘firearm’ includes a weapon parts kit that is designed to or may readily be completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive,” and defines a Privately Made Firearm (PMF) as a “firearm, including a frame or receiver, completed, assembled, or otherwise produced by a person other than a licensed manufacturer, and without a serial number placed by a licensed manufacturer at the time the firearm was produced.” All federal firearms licensees who take a PMF into their inventory will be required to mark the weapon with a unique serial number on a metal plate — not directly on the polymer of a printed gun, as this would be “susceptible [to] being readily obliterated, altered or removed” — within at least seven days in order to “allow ATF to trace those firearms through licensees’ records if involved in a crime.” FFLs who have an existing inventory of PMFs will have to put serial numbers on those guns by Oct. 23.
The rule “does not prohibit an individual from making their own PMF, does not mandate unlicensed persons mark their own PMF, [and] does not require an FFL to accept unmarked PMFs into their inventory,” ATF said.
The Department of Justice first issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on May 7, 2021, and received more than 290,000 comments during the subsequent 90-day period — the most that ATF had ever received on a proposed rule.
On April 11, Attorney General Merrick Garland signed ATF final rule 2021R-05F, Definition of “Frame or Receiver” and Identification of Firearms. The rule is set to go into effect Wednesday, Aug. 24, which is 120 days after the rule’s April 26 publication in the Federal Register.
In the run-up to enactment, social media and messaging platforms including Telegram and Twitter have been removing or suspending some accounts that shared blueprints for 3D guns, prompting the resurrection of targeted accounts under different names. Twitter’s rules prohibit using the site “for any unlawful purpose or in furtherance of illegal activities,” including “selling, buying, or facilitating transactions in illegal goods or services, as well as certain types of regulated goods or services.” That includes “weapons, including firearms, ammunition, and explosives, and instructions on making weapons (e.g. bombs, 3D printed guns, etc.).”
Many accounts continue to post photos and videos of their builds, share advice and helpful links, and encourage others to print 3D guns. “The printing will continue until freedom improves,” tweeted one prominent account. “And even then, we’ll still keep printing.” The account noted last week that it had been suspended for 12 hours and anticipated a Twitter ban: “They don’t want you to build your own unserialized, untraceable firearms, but it’s too late. Can’t stop the signal.”
“Its not enough to be pro 2A anymore,” reads one post on the Reddit /firearms board. “You need to be making as many ghost machine guns as possible.”
Across social media platforms, some of the posts asserting one’s right to print guns also incorporate anti-government language or memes, including referencing the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco or the Revolutionary War. Hundreds of 3D gun guides and blueprints have also been posted on one file-sharing site alone within the past two weeks.
On Telegram, protests against the rule include a meme urging others to “subvert and stand up to their incremental limitations,” while some channels that regularly post white supremacist or anti-government extremist content have also been sharing information about 3D printing and forwarding posts from prominent accounts dedicated to printed firearms.
A self-described “revolutionary fascist” neo-Nazi website declared last month that the rules are intended to “curbstomp our ability to DIY build without their permission” and stressed to its white supremacist readers that “the ability to clandestinely produce weapons that are useful to us is paramount to our success.”
The author linked to tutorials on 3D printed firearms along with some of his favorite designs. “Now, thanks to a brave few that led the way, there is no country on earth that you cant 3DP/DIY a very capable weapon, for both defense and offense. Weapons and their various accessories, magazines, drums, and even ammo (with a more refined skill set),” the article continued. “There is no excuse. No matter your location. Time is literally up. All associated skills of 3DP will come with trial and error. There’s no desktop shortcut. You have to learn and then do.”
“If you don’t think they’ll come for non-chassis accessories, printers, etc immediately after their August 24th change, you’re not paying attention,” the author added. “Their laws are not our laws. So they don’t matter.”
An accelerationist guide released last month, which attempted to drive extremists to commit violent acts including against critical infrastructure and communities of color, featured an article titled “Hard Reset Cop Killer” encouraging readers to ignore any thoughts or concerns about law and order. “‘Ten years for possession of a prohibited weapon’ the pig says, rent free, inside your head as you contemplate buying a 3D printer and some basic hand tools… kill the cop in your head,” it said.
One page of the 261-page manual focuses on how extremists can practice and be well-stocked when the price of ammunition is so high. Noting how enthusiasts are ordering thousands of rounds to shoot at the range on weekends while complaining about the prices, the guide adds that “as an Accelerationist, a White Guerrilla, a mortal enemy of the best System, you CANNOT afford to adopt this mentality. Even if you could afford to, financially — Our Race cannot.”
“Start treating brass like the precious metal it is. You can’t control the cost of ammo, but you — and only you — determine its value,” the guide continues. “You’ve got one round in the chamber. Will you put it through a paper target at the range, or a high value target where he’s most vulnerable?”
“Train regularly, but mindfully,” the page adds. “MAKE. EVERY. SHOT. COUNT.”
One of the Telegram accounts that has been circulating the guide posted, “How I sleep knowing the ATF can’t possibly regulate guns that are printed or milled at home. Aspiring DIY gunsmith disheartened over the loss of P80s? Keep your head up, lad. Buy a 3d printer – no 4473 required.”
White supremacist and accelerationist ideologies have not been the only extremists to tout the potential of homemade firearms to advance their agenda. After last year’s mass shooting at a Boulder grocery store, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released Inspire magazine’s “Praise & Guide: Colorado Attack” to assess what was done well by the attacker and what could have been done to inflict more harm. AQAP said the shooting underscored the ease with which potential shooters can acquire guns and told would-be jihadists to not start with simpler knife or vehicle attacks “until you search for these weapons and use them in your operation.”
“The possibility to place restrictions on the possession of weapons in America or to reduce their spread is extremely far and difficult. And all that you need is to search the internet and in arms shops for what is legally required of you to possess a weapon and how to buy it,” the guide said. “And let the weapon be a machine gun, and if you find an obstacle for this, all you must do is look for ways to obtain stealth weapons by purchasing ready-made weapon parts and then assembling and installing them manually by yourself, and this method has two advantages: The first advantage: The control over it is less and the ways to obtain it are easier. The second advantage: The weapon will be without a serial number.”
The magazine included an image of parts on a table, labeled “ghost gun.”