Absurdity and Machine Tools

Before today I’d never touched a machine tool in my life. My experience with tools was limited to power drills, screwdrivers, wrenches (socket and otherwise), and — dare I say it — a brace and bit. Basic hand tools used for basic around-the-house purposes.
Well, the lab wanted everyone to become familiar with the lab’s machine shop in case we needed to fabricate things for various experiments. I chose to try out the milling machine, and milled a tuning fork from a piece of aluminum stock. I certainly won’t be winning any awards, but the tuning fork does produce a steady note when struck. It only took me two hours, and about a third of that was figuring out how to work the machine and later removing melted aluminum from my cutting bit when I screwed up. Not bad for a total rookie.
Now, if a total rookie could fabricate a working tuning fork in a matter of hours, how long would it take for someone to make one of these? Granted, the factory ones were stamped, not machined…but it still would be pretty simple. Milling a link from a piece of stock steel and trimming back an AR-15 bolt carrier to the SP1 profile would take less than a day, even for a total newbie.
(Granted, doing so would be extremely illegal (that tiny piece of metal is actually considered a “machine gun” by law), and I would never attempt it — I legally own an NFA item and several “ordinary” firearms and would never do anything to risk my right to own them. I also have a rather serious allergy to jail and rather like being on the ATF’s good side. Don’t do it. Really. It’s a Very Bad Idea.)
Amazingly enough, buying all the stuff to make one is cheaper than buying one legally:

  • AR-15: $800
  • Milling machine: <$1,500 (not including cutting bits)
  • Steel: <$20

Round up to $3,000 just to be on the safe side.
A legal, transferable Lightning Link costs $8,000+, will be 22+ years old, and likely well-used.
Does anyone honestly think that a cost of a few weeks wages will stop those with criminal intentions from making machine guns? I certainly hope not. One can even alter “ballistic fingerprints” and remove microstamps using only simple hand tools like a file. The fact that these laws are either in place or being considered is absurd.
Once again, the law restricts the rights of honest folks, yet does essentially nothing to impede criminals.
I long for the day when people realize that laws and the justice system are reactive, not proactive. The mere existence of a law does not restrict anyone from behaving badly. It simply allows for them to be punished for their actions. One cannot preemptively stop crime by passing more laws.

4 thoughts on “Absurdity and Machine Tools”

  1. I’ve made them, in another country where doing so was not illegal. It can be done with a dremel tool and a blowtorch if you are so inclined.
    Suppressors are similarly easy to manufacture, though not with just a dremel… you need a bandsaw and a drill press too.
    It is simply not possible to prevent the unlawful acquisition of “machine guns” by those who wish to do so.

  2. Oh and I should note, any gun control plan that includes universal ban and confiscation is doomed to fail, unless the tyranical government (that would be necessary to accomplish the goal) were to impose strict licensing on machine tools, metals, and those with engineering or machinists skills as well.

  3. Very interesting piece here, both from a technical and a political/legal point of view. I never knew what needed to be modified in order to upgrade an assault rifle to an automatic weapon, and I find it very interesting that it’s just this tiny flat piece of metal. I also like your views on the ultimate role of laws as reactionary, as is obviously their proper role.

  4. Victor,
    The AR-15 is not an “assault rifle”. It’s just an ordinary, everyday semi-auto rifle. The M16, however, is an assault rifle. Minor quibble.
    It’s quite easy (and exceedingly illegal) to modify many types of guns to full-auto. The mechanisms tend to be very simple. In most cases, it’s actually easier to build an open-bolt machine gun than it is to make a closed-bolt semi-auto gun. See the Uzi for example — the trigger and fire control system basically serves to prevent the gun from firing…otherwise it’s default state is “fire”.

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