Prospect of 3D-printed guns raises questions

Associated Press file
Cody Wilson, with Defense Distributed, holds a 3D-printed gun called the Liberator at his shop in Austin, Texas.


A federal judge barred a company last week from putting blueprints online for making guns with 3D printers.

That brought to the forefront the idea of using 3D printers to make guns from plastic or polymer material. And that idea has some people up in arms and others rolling their eyes.

While some, including law enforcement, have many questions and concerns about the guns, those involved in the gun industry say the hype and worry is overblown.

“The technology is ahead of the application at this point. So it’s not a real practical thing to do,” said Nena Dwyer, vice president of Dave’s Gun Shop in Holland. “It’s something that is so cost prohibitive.”

A 3D printed gun is a firearm made from plastic or a polymer material that actually works. Austin-based Defense Distributed has been working on a blueprint since 2012 and completed the design in 2013. But the U.S. State Department ordered the instructions to be removed from the company’s website.

In July, the company reached an agreement with the federal agency to put its firearms file on its website, making them accessible to the online public. But eight state attorneys general and the District of Columbia sued to block the agreement, wanting to stop the online distribution of the blueprints. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik granted a temporary restraining order to block Defense Distributed from putting the blueprints online. A hearing on the issue was scheduled for today.

Law enforcement officials are aware of the matter, and said their concerns are more so about the safety of the guns and the ability of them to be detected and tracked, like other industry guns.

“I don’t want to take guns out of responsible people’s hands. I think people should be able to protect themselves,” Huntingburg Police Chief Art Parks said. “My issue is if there is no way to track that kind of gun.

“With a regular gun, you can track it. It may not get you back to the person you’re looking for, but you have something, some way to trace it,” he said. “With these guns, would that information be available?”

Jasper Police Chief Nathan Schmitt also voiced that concern.

On an AR-15 gun, Schmitt mentioned as an example, the serial number on the lower receiver makes it identifiable.

But if that part can be printed on a 3D printer, it won’t have a serial number.

“If that is built in someone’s basement, and then is used in a gun and dropped at the scene, we have no idea who that gun is registered to,” he said, “because there is no serial number on it.”

Another concern Schmitt mentioned is safety, since the gun would be made of plastic or a polymer material.

“If it’s not the right material,” he said, “if you put a bullet in it and it’s not strong enough for the strength of the round, it’s possible that people shooting the gun could get hurt from test-firing it.”

He added: “If someone makes it in their basement, the likelihood of that gun failing is higher than for a gun that is made according to the standards of the firearms industry.”

Parks also questioned how a 3D-printed gun would be detected by metal detectors.

“Going into federal or state buildings, or even courthouses, how will you patrol that if the gun isn’t detected by a metal detector or wand?” he asked.

That being said, Schmitt and Parks said they support Second Amendment rights.

“Responsible gun ownership doesn’t bother me,” Schmitt said. “But just anybody can have access to make guns, that concerns me. We have rules to try to keep guns out of the bad guys’ hands, though those aren’t perfect. To give them another avenue (for having a gun) is a little worrisome.”

“I don’t want to take guns out of responsible people’s hands. I think people should be able to protect themselves,” Parks said. “But with this being so different, where you can print them out, there needs to be some control there, which I hope the federal courts are thinking, too.”

Dwyer said making a gun at home is not simple.

“The cost of doing something like that, to get the machinery and technology, is so astronomical, it’s not something the average person would consider thinking about doing,” she said. “It’s not something that’s realistic anywhere in the near future. You never say absolutely never. But I would be surprised if this became a real, feasible possibility for the average person in my lifetime. The cost to do it makes it impractical.”

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