"Printable guns" confound lawmakers

3D printers may cause a new problem for legislators seeking to ban guns in the United States

by The Commentator on 19 January 2013 15:11

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As the Obama administration carries on with its newfound focus over gun control in the United States, the serious complexity of the matter is only beginning to come to light.

In Austin, Texas, for example, technological advances are causing some confusion over what lawmakers have the power to regulate. It is reported that in recent years, there has been a great increase in the use of 3D printers that produce plastic, including gun parts. Some second amendment activists are promoting homemade firearms as a way around legal constraints.

Cody Wilson, one of these afforementioned activists, believes that everyone should be able to own semi-automatic weapons like the one he has.

"For me it is a demonstration of radical equality," he told the Voice of America News. "Anything that law enforcement and the military can have I believe an individual person should be able to have. It is a simple demonstration of individual sovereignty."

This self-described anarchist made his rifle from designs found online and used a 3D printer to produce some of the parts in hard plastic.

"If the piece is designed well in the software, all you have to do is click 'print' and it is created for you in the machine," Wilson explained.

But the firing chamber and barrel of this rifle still need to be made of metal. And while an individual can legally make one,  federal law prohibits the sale of such homemade guns.

Security analyst Fred Burton at Austin-based Stratfor, a private global intelligence organization, thinks printable guns are not a big threat at present.

"It would be extraordinarily difficult to create a firearm like this that is 100 percent plastic, just because of the force of the round going down the muzzle," he explained. Burton says that it still presents a challenge to law enforcement.

Congressman Steve Israel from New York however, is already on the case. He told Forbes: "You want to buy a 3D printer and make something, buy a 3D printer and make something. But if you’re going to download a blueprint for a plastic weapon that can be brought onto an airplane, there’s a penalty to be paid."

At the University of Texas, law professor Sanford Levinson shares that concern. "The obvious question is whether this can and should be outlawed," he said.

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