Plastic Pistols: Is Banning 3D Guns Practical?

Concern for 3D weapons and regulations arose when a Texas student made a handgun with a home-based printer.
By @TrishaMarczakMP |
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    Firearm legislation in the U.S. could undergo drastic change Dec. 9 if a law banning undetectable guns expires, creating a new set of problems for facilities that use the machines to keep out unwanted weapons.

    At the forefront of the movement to enforce the legislation are Democratic Sens. Charles E Schumer of New York and Bill Nelson of Florida, who are also calling for updates to the law that would include a ban on 3D plastic guns.

    The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act of 2013 would create an extension of the 1998 Undetectable Firearms Act — one that would last throughout a span of 10 years. The update would target the plastic 3D guns, yet those very guns still use metal bullets.

    “With continuing advancements in technology, it is imperative that we renew the ban and take the necessary steps to keep people as safe as possible,” the senators wrote in a letter to colleagues. “Extending this ban will give law enforcement the tools that they need to keep undetectable firearms and magazines from slipping past security checkpoints and off of our streets.”

    Concern over 3D weapons heightened this year when a Texas student invented a handgun that could be produced through a home-based printer, causing concern among law enforcement officials over the unregulated production of the weapon — and the threats it posed in relation to security.

    “In mid-May it was reported that the student from Texas invented a plastic pistol that he said anyone could make with a 3D printer like his,” a press release issued by Schumer stated. “Police in Australia reportedly produced a similar weapon using computer printing technology that’s expected to be widely available within three years to just about anyone for around $2,000.”

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has also stated its concern over the 3D gun issue, telling reporters at a press conference that the use of such weapons has become a key issue, claiming the problems would arise not with the average consumer, but with highly-trained professionals, including assassins.

    However, there’s one key piece of information that has largely been left out of the 3D-gun debate as it relates to metal detectors — even if the gun is plastic, the deadly bullets, at this point, would be detected by metal detectors.

    Plastic guns have, at this point, never been used for deadly force in the U.S.


    Defense Distributed

    Texas-based nonprofit Defense Distributed is at the forefront of the push for 3D guns. The organization looks at the protection of the technology as a means to defend civil liberties.

    “The specific purposes for which this corporation is organized are: to defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and affirmed by the United States Supreme Court, through facilitating global access to, and the collaborative production of, information and knowledge related to the 3D printing of arms; and to publish and distribute, at no cost to the public, such information and knowledge in promotion of the public interest,” its website states.

    Democratic Congressman Steve Israel of New York disagrees, and is leading the push to ban 3D weapons altogether.

    In a January interview with Forbes, Israel was questioned over his passion to ban a product that to some is referred to as close to science fiction.

    “You said science fiction. One of my guilty pleasures growing up was “Star Trek,” where they had this thing called a Replicator. You press a button and a manufacture a product. That’s not science fiction anymore,” Israel said. “It’s real. As we get deeper into this national debate on gun safety it seems to me all the executive orders, all the acts of Congress will not be effective if someone can go to a Staples, buy a 3D printer, and manufacture plastic weapons components in their basements.”

    That’s the same line of thought Schumer and Nelson are taking. The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act specifically highlights the loopholes that exist for the new technology — and the actions necessary to close them.

    According to the bill:

    “… the ability to produce a receiver for a firearm in the home would circumvent a number of laws, because the receiver is the component of the firearm that bears its serial number, as required by regulations; digital manufacturing technologies, including but not limited to computer numerical control mills (CNC mills), 3-dimensional printers (3D printers), and laser cutting machines, are quickly advancing to a point where it will soon be possible to fabricate fully operational firearm components; and some commercially available products that utilize digital manufacturing technologies to manufacture objects are able to manufacture these objects using materials that are unable to be detected by traditional metal detectors, and may not present an accurate image on an x-ray.”

    There’s also question over whether the legislation would prohibit metal 3D guns. Solid Concepts, a Texas business, rolled out the new technology that would allow the creation of just that. With technology progressing so rapidly, those within the company claim there’s plenty of room to grow.

    “I think the sky is the limit. Every day we try to develop new applications for these technologies,” Solid Concepts Vice President Kent Firestone told an Austin ABC affiliate.

    The question now is whether lawmakers will be satisfied with that technology.

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