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The US Has Made It Possible For Anyone to Download And Print Their Own Gun. Yes, Really

"The age of the downloadable gun formally begins."

CARLY CASSELLA
24 JUL 2018
 

For more than five years, Cody Wilson has been stuck in a legal battle with the US government over whether he should be able to post plans for a 3D-printed handgun that he likes to call "The Liberator."

 

The lawsuit turns on whether or not the first and second amendment, allowing freedom of speech and the right to bear arms, protects someone like Wilson, who wishes to provide downloadable gun blueprints to make deadly, untraceable weapons.

On June 29, the US government suddenly put an end to the discussion. The US State Department offered Wilson a settlement, allowing him to post his plans, files and 3D drawings online in any form starting next month. The State Department will also be reimbursing Wilson nearly $40,000 for his legal costs.

"We asked for the Moon and we figured the government would reject it, but they didn't want to go to trial," said Alan M. Gottlieb, a member of the Second Amendment Foundation, which helped in the case.

"The government fought us all the way and then all of the sudden folded their tent."

Along with The Liberator, Wilson's website will now be able to legally lay out their blueprints for a DIY Baretta M9 handgun and an AR-15 lower receiver – the latter being the same model used in three recent mass shootings in Las Vegas, Newtown, and Parkland.

 

"The age of the downloadable gun formally begins," the Second Amendment Foundation's website now reads.

But while the National Rifle Association and gun rights activists are praising the settlement, gun control proponents remain worried by the lack of restrictions for printable guns.

At the moment, most Americans cannot afford high-end 3D printers (the price can be as high as $600,000), but as the technology progresses that will inevitably begin to change. Even now, if you already own or have access to a 3D printer, it can be as cheap as $25 to make a 3D printed gun.

"We are looking at a world in which anyone with a little bit of cash can bring an undetectable gun that can fire multiple bullets anywhere — including planes, government buildings, sporting events and schools," said Senator Chuck Schumer at a recent press conference.

"3D printers are a miraculous technology that have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, but we need to make sure they are not being used to make deadly, undetectable weapons."

When it comes to gun terrorism, the possibilities are endless. Right now, it is theoretically possible, for instance, to create a 3D printed gun and its bullets solely from plastic, rendering metal detectors useless. An assailant could also send the blueprint to a 3D printer in any building, and then assemble the weapon once they are past security.

Plus, background checks are not needed to produce 3D printed guns, making it even more difficult for the government to keep track of who has them. Already, firearms that are made at home are known as "ghost guns" because they lack a serial number and are untraceable. All too often, these ghost guns end up in the wrong hands.

"Now, criminals have started using ghost guns as a way to circumvent assault weapon regulations," David Chipman, an advisor to the gun control advocacy group Giffords, told Vice News.

 

"I imagine that people will also start printing guns to get around laws."

America's decision is particularly startling given that other countries have taken an entirely different approach to the young technology.

In Japan, when a 28-year-old was found to have manufactured a plastic 3D-printed firearm, he was charged with violating the national weapons law and sent to prison for two years.

In the UK, it is highly illegal to create, buy or sell 3D printed guns. Back in 2013, police in the UK seized what they thought were 3D printed gun components (in the end, it turns out they were completely harmless spare parts).

In China, 3D printing firms must register with the authorities to prevent the technology from being used to produce illegal items.

In Australia, the laws on 3D printed guns are some of the toughest in the world. Some Australian states, for instance, have passed laws that equate possession of a 3D printed gun file to actual possession of a 3D printed gun, sending offenders to jail for up to 14 years. Even still, two years ago, several members of a Melbourne gang were arrested after it was found that they were manufacturing guns with a 3D printer.

Meanwhile, in the US, legal limits on the 3D printing of guns are few and far between. In fact, California is the only state in the country to pass a law that requires a 3D printed gun to be properly approved and registered. Anywhere else, and that gun can appear and disappear without a trace.

Science AF is ScienceAlert's new editorial section where we explore society's most complex problems using science, sanity and humor.

 

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