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3D Printing Stocks – Gun-Makers of the Future?

3D printing stocks including 3D Systems (DDD), Stratasys (SSYS), ExOne (XONE) and Voxeljet (VJET) are hot trades right now.

ddd stock 3D Systems Corp.All four picks have dramatically outperformed the market in 2013, with gains of more than 50% and as high as 130%. Of course, Voxeljet has only traded for a few weeks since its IPO — but even in that short time, this 3D printing stock has soared.

The buzz lifting DDD stock and fueling the recent IPO of Voxeljet is easy to understand. 3D printing stocks have a great narrative behind them as on-demand manufacturing for small businesses as well as the potential for crowd-sourced innovation as people create 3D printing blueprints and distribute them worldwide.

But one interesting and divisive element of the 3D printing stocks revolution is the ability to manufacture cheap, plastic handguns.

Will such production be legal? And if so, will it provide a big area of opportunity for 3D printing stocks like DDD and Stratasys in the years ahead?

3D Printing Stocks and Gun Advocates — Strange Bedfellows

The populist appeal of 3D printers fits perfectly in line with many gun rights advocates. The idea that you can create something on demand, without a big corporation as a middleman, is incredibly appealing to those who place a premium on self-determination.

And while having the freedom to make your own widgets to sell is very different than having the freedom to create your own guns for self-defense, philosophically, it’s all about affordable access.

There are a host of plans out there to create many things with 3D printers. Some of the most popular ones on Thingiverse — the blueprint bulletin board for Stratasys and its Makerbot line of 3D printers — include keychains, vases and iPad stands.

But the ones that make the biggest splash are specialized items that previously needed a specific and capital-intensive manufacturing process.

Like a prosthetic hand that can be created by a 3D printer for just $10 worth of parts.

Like sustainable “fabrics” that can be printed from recycled materials.

And of course, like 3D-printable handguns.

The interesting thing about handguns is the unique political moment in which this trend is emerging. Gun rights advocates have been concerned about threats to their Second Amendment rights ever since Obama took over the White House. And tragic mass shootings in recent years have led to gun rights advocates getting even more defensive.

Coincidentally, the focus on firearms has also led to huge sales for publicly traded gun stocks like Smith & Wesson Holding (SWHC) and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR). SWHC is up about 180% since 2010 and RGR is up over 600% on very strong sales, thanks to gun owners racing to purchase firearms they think may be taken off the market under stricter regulations.

So will 3D printing stocks move into the firearm space more officially?

That depends partially on regulations. In just a few weeks, a decades-old gun law requiring firearms be constructed from a certain amount of metal is set to expire — and that could allow for plastic handguns to really take hold.

If the law is revised or extended, it might affect the ability of 3D printing stocks to play in this market — either because of gun registration requirements, or a mandate on materials that makes 3D printed guns not all that much more expensive than the alternative.

It’s not just cheap plastic guns, however, since there also are plans for conventional metal guns available for 3D printers — though admittedly the materials create an added cost burden and complication.

However things shake out, it’s worth noting that some 100,000 people have already downloaded 3D printer plans for guns … so even if the actual production and regulation is uncertain, the demand is very clear.

More on 3D Printing Stocks

Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. Write him at editor@investorplace.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP.

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