Imagine if acquiring a gun were as easy as downloading it. Just feed the blueprints into a 3D printer, hit print and boom: a fully functioning plastic gun created on the spot. No serial number, no background check and no metal parts to set off airport security scanners. It’s a terrifying prospect, but there’s no need to imagine it. As far as actually making plastic guns, we’re already there. The only thing inhibiting their spread has been an Obama-era ruling curbing the dissemination of the blueprints. Gun rights activist Cody Wilson published online schematics for the Liberator in 2013. This is a physible, 3D-printable single shot handgun, the first such printable firearm design made widely available online. The plans were downloaded over 100,000 times in the two days before the United States Department of State argued that he was violating the firearms export law and forced him to remove them.
On July 19th, 2018 the United States Department of Justice reached a settlement with Defense Distributed, allowing the sale of plans for 3D-printed firearms online, beginning August 1, 2018. President of the United States Donald Trump tweeted a cryptic message in apparent reference to the decision to allow the online publication of the Liberator’s files:
I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2018
But all that changed last month, when Donald Trump’s Justice Department abruptly reversed the decision. As Wilson geared up to release blueprints for everything from handguns to assault rifles last week, a federal judge stopped the release of liberator blueprints. The reason, it is an untraceable and undetectable 3D-printed plastic gun, citing safety concerns. But in my opinion, this will likely only delay the inevitable.
We can take some comfort in the fact that the 3D printers able to produce these plastic guns cost about $10,000. Why would criminals pay that when they can go to a shop and pick up something far more reliable for $250, and even less on the black market? Also fears that plastic guns can be snuck onto planes are unfounded. Most 3D guns require one or two metal parts to prevent jams. And in any case, weapons undetectable by airport scanners are already illegal. So, plastic guns remain for now a niche product. Even the best models tend to fall apart after a shot or two. Perhaps that’s why the NRA, usually so active, has shown little interest in the debate?
But that won’t be true for ever. As the technology improves, 3D printing will become cheaper and better. The frightening thing is, in a couple of decades it really will be the case that pretty much anyone can produce fully functional and durable plastic guns at home.
What do we do then?
What do you think? Leave a comment below:
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