There was a time when surplus GI weapons were actually sold to the American public. We were indeed a nation of riflemen back then. Nowadays, however, GI-surplus ordnance is melted, shredded or otherwise ripped asunder before being auctioned off as scrap. Up until recently, that meant law-abiding American citizens just couldn’t own the genuine article.

Retro guns are all the rage these days. While we could scrounge up the right parts to make these vintage weapons look like the real deal, the aberrant lower receiver markings always confounded the purist. The Ghost Gunner from Defense Distributed changed that.

In addition to building fully operational receivers and frames for a variety of firearms at home, this remarkable machine also guarantees our grandchildren will grow up to be free men and women. Buying a Ghost Gunner directly supports the cause of liberty in America. The story behind this device, and the righteous crusade it supports, is spellbinding.

The Machine: Defense Distributed Ghost Gunner

You can finish an 80-percent AR-15 receiver at home with the proper jigs, a drill press and a router. I’ve made a couple. However, the process is messy and fairly tedious, and the result can also potentially look a bit unprofessional. The best method for creating your own personal-use firearms is the Ghost Gunner from Defense Distributed.

The Ghost Gunner is a small, hobby-sized CNC milling machine that runs off of standard wall power. It connects to your PC or Mac to finish gun receivers. So long as you build these weapons for personal use and not for resale, there’s no federal requirement to serialize them, add any ancillary markings or ask anybody’s permission. This is the secret to building a spot-on replica of a Vietnam-era M16A1.

The machine will currently mill AR-15, AR-10, aluminum 1911 and Glock-style frames. It will even engrave the side if you wish it to do so. The device is maybe two-thirds the size of a 10-gallon fish tank, and it’s a potential game-changer for the gun world.

Now, the Ghost Gunner isn’t cheap. The mill will set you back about $2,000. However, for that investment you get way more than just a top-quality home milling machine. In fact, the Ghost Gunner is the most effective hedge against tyranny ever conceived by man. A population that can build its own firearms at home will never be subjugated. During the 20th century, recognized governments murdered some 260 million of their own citizens in various wars, massacres and ethnic cleansing. Thanks to the Ghost Gunner and the ideal it represents, that will never happen here.

The Politics Behind It

Freedom-averse leftists revile the very thought of this machine. Anything that so profoundly empowers a populace massively diminishes governmental control. As a result, there’s an ongoing effort to stifle Defense Distributed’s primary mission to post digital files on the internet.

Defense Distributed first made a splash by releasing the digital plans to build a single-shot handgun called the Liberator with a 3D printer. This flimsy plastic pistol is not something you’d want to go to war with, but it will shoot. Defense Distributed never tried to sell the gun; the company only wanted to share the digital files—just 0s and 1s. It’s breathtaking to consider how far some will go to stifle these wee sparks of electricity.

Defense Distributed won its legal fight against the U.S. State Department, and now its battling individual states. New Jersey recently passed a specific law preventing Defense Distributed from even communicating with its citizens. I might expect such draconian bile from Iran, North Korea or Venezuela. However, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, I thought the First Amendment protected the things we talked and wrote about.

Defense Distributed is a non-profit corporation wholly dedicated to supporting and expanding the cause of freedom. It sells Ghost Gunners to defray its monumental ongoing legal costs. When you buy a Ghost Gunner, not only do you get a truly awesome machine, but you also make a financial donation to the righteous cause of American liberty.

Back To Vietnam

Originally designed in 1956, the M16 first saw widespread use by American forces in Vietnam. The U.S. military was ramping up, and Colt was unable to produce rifles in the numbers demanded. As a result, Harrington & Richardson produced M16A1s under license as well as the Hydra-Matic Division of General Motors.

Colt made most of the wartime guns. Harrington & Richardson rolled out around 250,000 copies. Hydra-Matic produced about 469,000 between 1968 and 1971. And up until now, a proper clone of the Hydra-Matic M16A1 was quite literally unobtainable. Thanks to the Ghost Gunner, however, that’s no longer the case.

I tripped over an AR-15 receiver blank engraved to replicate those original 1968-era Hydra-Matic M16s on It sports a serial number, but that’s just for show. As the receiver is only 80-percent complete, it shipped straight to my door. Demilled Colt M16A1 parts kits can still be found on GunBroker or occasionally from sites like Sarco. Brownells offers new parts if you’d sooner have a factory-gleaming gun.

My parts kit was fairly long in the tooth. I detail-stripped the upper and degreased it thoroughly. I repaired the forearm cracks with J-B Weld automotive epoxy and painted all the furniture with high-quality flat-black spray paint formulated for plastic. The result is a like-new look.

Lower Details With Defense Distributed Ghost Gunner

Finishing an 80-percent receiver demands that you lock the otherwise uncontrolled receiver blank into a 3D-printed jig. You can conjure these yourself using Defense Distributed software if you have the means, or you can order them from the website. Once the Ghost Gunner and your PC or Mac are on speaking terms, the software walks you through everything from setup to shutdown. The process is easy, fun and satisfying.

The 80-percent receiver must have the rear lug pocket already machined. This is a small thing, but it’s important. The Ghost Gunner won’t reach back far enough to cut this. Just ask before you put money down on the blank. The 80-percent receivers sold by Defense Distributed and many others already have this bit done.

This build demands extreme precision, and the Ghost Gunner does it all for you. There’s the neatest electrical calibration system that allows the machine to automatically orient itself on the 80-percent frame. Watching the thing work is half the fun.

The finishing process takes maybe three hours. You can wander off and do something else while the Ghost Gunner chugs away. The result is of the same quality as anything you might buy at the gun shop. Set the machine up on top of a piece of cardboard or something similar—I used the lid from a storage box—and cleanup is a snap.

Assembly Time

I finished both the upper and lower receivers using ceramic bake-on engine-block paint from my local auto parts store. If properly cured, this remarkable stuff yields a finish that’s at least as rugged as more expensive DIY products. The color isn’t quite as gray as that of the original Vietnam-era rifles, but for $10, it’s close enough.

You can cook these parts in your wife’s kitchen oven. However, if you do so, you will have eaten your last homemade apple pie that does not taste vaguely like car tires. The solution is a cheap toaster oven from Walmart. The final product looks great and runs like a monkey after an orange.

Assembling an AR-15-style rifle at home is hardly an onerous chore. Down here in the Deep South, if you fail to build an AR with your kids before they leave for college, it could be considered child abuse. Mounting the barrel requires a special wrench, and the process is easier with a set of building fixtures from Present Arms, but none of it is particularly tough. YouTube will walk you through the details.

The Final Product

The finished product looks cool hanging on the wall and renders yeoman’s service as a home-defense tool. The manual of arms is foundational dogma for anybody who’s ever run an AR, and the ergonomics set the standard by which all others are judged. The final product is a spitting image of the otherwise unobtainable GI-issued Hydra-Matic gun.

The Ghost Gunner is the most exciting gun-related tool since the screwdriver. Building your own guns at home is as American as Lady Liberty’s knickers. Additionally, the proceeds from each Ghost Gunner machine go directly toward advancing the cause of freedom.

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the entire government of New Jersey absolutely despise Defense Distributed. As such, this company deserves our wholehearted support. The possibilities for home gun-building are limitless, and my new, off-the-books Hydra-Matic M16A1 is the coolest gun in my safe.

For More Information

This article is from the August-September 2019 issue of Tactical Life magazine. Grab your copy at For digital editions, visit Amazon.

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