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Open Season: Dispelling the many myths about 3D-printed guns
South Coast Today
By Marc Folco / Open SeasonPosted Aug 11, 2018 at 6:27 PMUpdated Aug 11, 2018 at 8:28 PM
The hot new gun topic recently became 3D printed firearms and the ability to share plans to make one at home, following a court victory in June which recognized that the plaintiff, Defense Distributed of Texas, has the right, under the First Amendment, to share plans on the Internet. It’s nothing more than designs and files that allow someone to use a 3D printer or CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine to make a firearm.
It’s really no big deal to some of us, but it triggered panic and outrage among those who are ignorant of firearms and firearm laws, resulting in many myths being spread. One is that it will enable someone to download a gun from the internet. Another fib is that it will allow people to legally make “undetectable” guns that can bypass a metal detector or X-ray machine. Both myths are simply not true.
Following the court victory, the attorney generals of 20 states, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, filed suit in July, against the State Department to stop Defense Distributed from sharing plans, and a temporary restraining order was issued, blocking the publishing of those plans.
So let’s see what some expert and respected sources on firearms and firearms law have to say about it. In a report on Monday by The Outdoor Wire, national firearms expert Tom Gresham, who hosts Gun Talk radio, the first nationally syndicated radio show about guns and the shooting sports, listed several things you should know about 3D guns.
Among them is the fact that it’s legal under federal law to make your own gun — without a serial number — as long as you aren’t selling it or giving it away, notes Gresham. If it’s for your own use, you can make it and use it. You still must abide by all federal and state laws, and cannot be a prohibited person.
Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL), based in Northboro, in its Aug. 3 report on the issue, said that legally making firearms at home “has been happening in the United States since before we were the United States,” and added, “if a person is federally prohibited from owning a firearm, it is against the law for them to make one, just like it’s against the law for them to buy one, or file the serial number off of one, or carry one with a filed-off serial number.”
Gresham also mentions that a license is not required to make a firearm solely for personal use. However, a license is required to manufacture firearms for sale or distribution.
Dispelling another fable, Gresham says, “No one is going to download a gun from the Internet. I know, it sounds stupid. The issue is the publishing of CAD drawings and other files. Publishing. Think First Amendment.” He also says that information cannot be stopped and the files in question already had found their way to the web and had been downloaded thousands of times. “The horse is not only out of the barn, it has left the county,” he added.
Regarding homemade undetectable guns that can sneak through metal detectors and X-ray machines, Gresham reveals, much to the dismay of the anti-gun crowd, that it’s been illegal to make an undetectable gun for 30 years. “No, 3D files do not allow someone to legally make a gun that is undetectable to airport screeners,” he said.
In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent and Public Information Officer Michael Knight explained that the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 outlaws the manufacture or possession of firearms that can pass through a walk-through metal detector or X-ray machine commonly employed at airports without being detected.
“A person or manufacturer cannot produce an undetectable firearm as prescribed in Title 18 of the United States Code, section 922(p),” he said.
The ATF has an online resource, https://www.atf.gov/qa-category/3-d-printing-technology-firearms, that also answers questions about 3D-printed gun parts and how the agency monitors them. One section reads, “ATF enforces Federal firearms laws and, currently, these laws do not limit the technology or processes that may be used to produce firearms.” In other words, the law doesn’t prevent publishing “how-to” information.
While 3D printers, which produce plastic figures by applying layer upon layer of material, can cost under $200, GOAL notes, importantly, that a 3D printer capable of making a working firearm that won’t shatter when fired, costs thousands of dollars. According to a USA Today story on Aug. 1, the printers needed to make the guns can cost $5,000 to $600,000. The guns usually last only a few rounds before they fall apart, and they’re not accurate, experts say.
A 3D printed gun that functions is big and clunky, very non-concealable and most only fire a single shot. The story also explains that the blueprints in question include incorporating metal to make the guns detectable — and legal.
Think about it, just for a moment. Even if some scofflaw got the plans off the Internet to make a gun from a 3D printer and invested thousands in the equipment to illegally produce an undetectable gun and not include metal in its design, the gun is useless without the ammunition. And ammunition components such as the case, bullet or shot, and primer are detectable. Metal detectors detect iron, nickel, copper, brass, aluminum, tin, lead, gold, silver and bronze.
Even a shotshell case, made completely of plastic and incorporating undetectable shot, such as glass marbles, must have a primer (the ignition source), which is made of detectable metal, and it should set off metal detectors.
Let’s also consider that schematics detailing the parts and assembly of most every modern firearm ever manufactured, are readily available in books, owner’s manuals, catalogs and through the internet. You’ll find the manufacturer’s designs and exploded views from lock, stock and barrel to the tiniest spring and screw.
It’s also not that difficult to build a muzzleloading rifle or pistol at home, especially from a kit (it’s a little more difficult building one from scratch). To complete the project, you need instructions (hard copy or internet), simple hand tools and basic metal and woodworking skills. It’s legal and thousands — perhaps millions — of homemade muzzleloading rifles and pistols without serial numbers have been built since this country was settled.
The hysteria over this issue is because it’s about guns, in my view. While it’s legal to make a gun for personal use at home, either by using raw materials or 3D printing equipment (providing the gun can be detected), it remains illegal to make your own hard liquor. Call it what you will — shine, bootleg whiskey, hooch or Grandpa’s secret recipe — it’s illegal, no matter what you’ve seen on the Discovery Channel.
According to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), “individuals of legal drinking age may produce wine or beer at home for personal or family use, however Federal law strictly prohibits individuals from producing distilled spirits at home.” However, you can easily find plans and videos on the Internet for making a still to produce moonshine. The ingredients — corn, sugar, yeast, charcoal and water — also are readily available. Thus, minors, who can’t legally purchase liquor, can learn how to make their own, get drunk, operate a motor vehicle or other machinery, and create the potential for multiple deaths.
So where’s the outrage? Why aren’t Healey and the others trying to ban anyone from publishing information on stills and moonshine? Is it because it’s an infringement of the First Amendment. Is it because it’s not about guns? Is it both?
I suppose Healey will use the ruse of “public safety” to begin banning books, catalogs, instructions, owner’s manuals and parts schematics for all primitive and modern firearms, too, in case someone wants to make one at home. In my opinion, Healey is continuing to waste taxpayer’s valuable dollars on more anti-gun foolishness. I would think she has much more important issues to deal with regarding public safety.
For example, on Aug. 1, New Bedford Police arrested a man on charges of possession of a defaced firearm (filed-off serial number), illegal possession of a large-capacity firearm, illegal possession of a handgun, illegal possession of ammunition, possession of cocaine, possession of cocaine, subsequent offense, and firearm violation with one prior violent or drug crime. The suspect previously had been arraigned on 50 charges over nearly 20 years, including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, illegal distribution of a class A substance and failure to obey a police officer. Yet this dangerous criminal was still out on the streets.
In April, the community was both saddened and outraged when Yarmouth Police Officer Sean Gannon was slain in cold blood by a career criminal with more than 100 previous charges.
So much for public safety, eh? It’s my opinion that Healey’s gun-control agenda and duping citizens into feeling safe by filing lawsuits and orders to ban people from publishing schematics, designs and plans on the internet is more important.
Gresham makes the point that blocking the publication of the files is blocking free speech, which “usually would have (the anti-gun crowd) marching in the streets,” he said. “In this case, of course, it’s acceptable because it’s free speech about something they don’t like.”
Massachusetts law prohibits the possession, sale or transfer of undetectable guns made exclusively from plastic. The law also states, “An appropriate state-issued license is required to possess or carry a weapon; sell, rent, or lease a weapon; and possess or purchase ammunition.” So it would appear that if you made a 3D-printed firearm with the appropriate amount of metal so it’s detectable and, therefore, legal you would need a license to possess it. It also would be required to be stored in a locked container or be equipped with a trigger lock.
Marc Folco is the outdoor writer for The Standard-Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through OpenSeasonSpecialties.com