3D Printed Guns

The second amendment is a very important issue to many voters in Tennessee District 1. As many readers already know, I am a gun owner, a deer hunter, a member of a gun club, and the possessor of a handgun carry permit. So it was with some knowledge of guns that I read a recent article which announced that programs for 3-D printed handguns will be downloadable August 1. The U.S. justice department recently made a decision to stop pursing litigation against a citizen who wanted to make the printing program internationally available, and the information is just now getting out. A balanced discussion of the free speech arguments versus the public safety arguments is seen here. Note that handguns will be immediately available, and certain components of AR-15 rifles (but at this time not full AR-15 rifle programs) will soon be available.

So what is 3-D printing? 3-D printing technology can be owned by any citizen. Instead of printing a two-dimensional paper document, it prints a three-dimensional object out of a polymer. I used this technology while inventing a surgical simulator; it is easy to use and practical. If you need a part for your grandmother’s antique sewing machine, you can print it and get that sewing machine working again. One picture in this post shows a 3-D printer which is easily available online and fits on a desk or table.

The other picture shows and example of a 3-D-printed handgun. A 3-D-printed handgun, being made of polymer, can’t be picked up by metal detectors. And now there is absolutely no protection against firearm procurement by people who are not allowed to possess guns—instead of buying one, they can just print one.

I’ve been an advocate for finding things that most people can agree about and then working on those items first to make progress. In the area of gun safety, most people can agree that we should allow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate methods to decrease suicide and gun accidents. Most can agree that bump stocks or other technologies that turn a semi-automatic weapon into what is essentially a machine gun should be regulated just like machine guns. And, most people can agree we should enforce the laws we already have to keep guns out of the hands of people with histories of violence or stalking.

But enforcing the laws we already have won’t make much of a difference if a stalker can just 3-D print a weapon. Airports and other areas which require security checks will no longer be able to rely on metal detectors for screening. Yes, body scanners are available but they are costly and require increased personnel time and training.

This is an interesting area where freedom of speech bumps up against public safety. In my view, the most important function of government is to keep the people safe. It seems to me that we have had a significant lapse in governmental transparency. Why was this major change reported by news media only a few days before it is to take effect? The U.S. House of Representatives is on break now, so no intervention can be expected before the August 1 initiation of 3-D printed guns. By August 2, security checkpoints need to be ready for a potential influx of 3-D-printed guns. I strongly believe this situation should have been handled in a much better fashion.