Something New to Worry About for Air Travelers?

(Image: TSA)

Agents for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada found an unusual firearm among the 68 firearms discovered in carry-on bags at airport security checkpoints across the nation the week of July 29th-Aug 4th of this year.

According to the TSA, a passenger attempted to bring a gun through security in a carry-on bag that was assembled using parts made with a 3D printer!

While the TSA considered it a replica, it was loaded with live ammunition, which most likely triggered the alarm for the TSA agents.

TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said it’s not known if the plastic firearm would work, but it had five .22-caliber bullets with it, and furthermore, even replica firearms are not permitted to be carried aboard aircraft.

Dankers said the man was allowed to leave his gun and ammo behind and board his plane, nor was he arrested or issued a citation. Still, Dankers says he could face a civil fine up to $7,500.

Are 3D printed handguns a real threat to the aviation industry?

According to the 3D news organization 3DPrint.com, while it is possible to produce a realistic looking handgun, making one that actually works if a bit more complicated.  For instance, it can take several hours for each part to be produced and the materials used in the 3D printing process cannot hold up to the explosive force generated by firing a bullet. The gun would most likely break apart or fail at the first attempt to shoot it, even if stronger ABS plastic is used.

There have been, however, hybrid models made using a combination of metal and plastic parts, and one company even developed a method of 3D printing using metal instead of plastic. That equipment cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, though. That company, Solid Concepts (now part of Stratasys Direct and no longer in the gun business), built a few and sold them for $11,000 apiece.

So making a 3D printed gun is not easy, it is not quick, it is not cheap and it does not result in especially dangerous or deadly weapons.

But still, as the technology continues to advance and new materials are being developed, there may come a time when a real functioning 3D plastic firearm becomes a reality.

Even then, there is still the issue of the ammunition!