In the wake of the recent revelations that 25-year-old Texas law student Cody Wilson had manufactured and successfully fired the world's first 3D printed gun, lawmakers in some states are already looking to ban them. Wilson's company, Defense Distributed, has posted the blueprints for the gun, named "The Liberator," online and as of Thursday they had already been downloaded over 100,000 times. The State Department has reacted by sending Wilson a letter demanding he take down the files, and Wilson has said he will comply. Amid fears that this technology could make guns easier to obtain and harder to track and detect, lawmakers in California, New York, and Washington D.C. are already moving to outlaw them.
It will still be a while before large numbers of people have access to 3D printers to make use of such technology, and people can already make their own firearms for personal use. 3D printing technology, however, is set to become increasingly widespread over the next decade and because the guns are made of plastic (the Liberator currently has one small metal nail, but this could be removed by others who print it) they are harder to detect. Given that this technology is expected to rapidly become more widespread, it pays to start thinking about how to deal with it now.
Although Defense Distributed has successfully fired its gun, it only holds one bullet and has yet to prove consistently reliable. The company, however, has also successfully printed lower receivers and magazines for the AR-15. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which enforces but doesn't make gun laws, while they have been following the development of the technology, representatives believe it is still not advanced enough to start figuring out how to regulate it. However, given that this technology is rapidly improving, some lawmakers have begun doing exactly that.
In California, State Senator Leland Yee, a Democrat, has announced that he is planning to introduce legislation that would ban people from being able to use 3D printing technology to simply print guns themselves. "We must be proactive in seeking solutions to this new threat rather than wait for the inevitable tragedies this will make possible," Yee said. He added that he is aiming to "ensure that any individual who is going to make a gun out of these 3D printers go through a background check, just like any other individuals who purchase a gun."
In Washington, D.C., council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), has also announced his intent to introduce legislation to regulate the technology. "An undetectable firearm constructed on your computer may sound like science fiction, but unfortunately, it's already here and our laws have never contemplated this scenario," he said on Tuesday. According to Charles Allen, Wells' chief of staff, the legislation would essentially update and renew existing gun laws.
One of the pieces of existing legislation that Wells wants Congress to renew is the Undetectable Firearms Act, which is due to expire at the end of the year. Democrat Congressman Steve Israel of New York has been pushing to do just that, introducing a bill called the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act. In doing so he has repeatedly talked about the threat posed by 3D printed guns.
3D printing technology is clearly still in its infancy when it comes to making guns, but it is evolving fast. And 3D printers are becoming more widely available. Staples, the office supplies store, has started carrying 3D printers in some of its stores. Nick Bilton, a technology writer for the New York Times, believes that the technology will become much more widespread over the coming decade. Although it remains to be seen exactly what form any legislation to regulate 3D printed guns would take at state or federal level or if it could be enforced, this is clearly a conversation that it is better to start having now rather than later.