Before a federal judge in Seattle Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order to block the release of downloadable blueprints for 3D-printed plastic firearm, critics would have had you believe that the world was going to change forever starting today (Aug. 1, 2018).
That’s because Defense Distributed had been legally cleared to begin posting plans for 3D printing of firearms. People who invest the many thousands of dollars into 3D printer technology will be able to log on, download the plans and print their own firearms.
This sent the gun control advocates into hysterics. Antigun legislators, governors and attorneys general are decrying the move, introducing bills and suing the Trump administration to block the move. Like many times before, the matter is being overblown.
Let’s take a look at the facts. The technology to 3D print firearms, in itself, does not present a new problem or likely threat to law enforcement. Americans have had the ability to make firearms on their own and do. It has not created a wave of “ghost guns.” It has allowed individuals who are passionate about building their own firearms to assemble them in their homes. This is the exception, not the rule. The overwhelming majority of firearms are bought through commercial sales, produced by manufacturers and sold by retailers that are federally licensed and regulated.
Firearms Production Is Regulated For Everyone
Firearms regardless of how they are manufactured are regulated. While it makes for a scary headline, the fact is that it is illegal to produce an “undetectable” firearm. The 1968 Gun Control Act, the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, and other federal laws all govern firearms produced by a 3D printing process, just as they apply to conventional manufacturing processes using machine tools. The regulations require metal in these guns so that they are detectable (they always have been). If the argument is that criminals won’t follow this law, then we can finally agree that, by definition, criminals don’t have respect for the law. If the technology at some point in the distant future reached the point where fully-functioning, safe and reliable firearms could be brought to market, the sales of such firearms produced with this technology would be governed by existing federal laws.
Three-dimensional printing isn’t cheap. That’s a fact. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and many hours to produce firearm parts using this advanced printer technology and the required computer-aided design & computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software.
Those complaining that street gangs will be setting up computer printing labs to produce untraceable firearms aren’t dealing in reality. Criminals have easier, cheaper sources. There have been no reports of a criminal using 3D printing to manufacture a firearm and the technology and equipment that would be required to produce one of these firearms would be prohibitively expensive for criminals. Criminals obtain their firearms from the black market, theft, or associates.
Unproven Tech vs. Manufacturing Reliability
Even after the high cost, the end result is not as effective as a conventionally produced firearm. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has warned 3D printed firearms were prone to catastrophic failure. Manufacturers invest millions of dollars into research, design and testing to produce firearms. These manufacturers produce firearms that function reliably, in the toughest conditions, and are made to withstand the demanding conditions of performance, including tens of thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch created from firing a round. They are also made to perform in the toughest of environmental conditions, in heat, cold, snow, rain, wet and when dirty.
Quite literally, the lives of gun owners are dependent on firearms working every time they are needed. Even if individuals spend the time and considerable sums of money to 3D print, NSSF does not encourage this practice in the home. Why should anyone risk producing an unsafe and unreliable item. NSSF encourages all consumers to only buy firearms from federally licensed retailers who acquire then from manufacturers who make safe and reliable products.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.