2018 is turning out to be a landmark year in terms of gun safety, or rather, lack thereof. Actually, “landmark" doesn’t quite seem to be the right word to describe tragedy. Over 200 devastating shootings have occurred so far this year. And now, one more thing – the possible distribution of 3D printed, downloadable guns – has been added to the list of potentially disastrous events this year. These guns may be created using 3D printers with the help of blueprints that can be downloaded from Defense Distributed, a far-right organization. As homemade weapons, they do not require registration and may be created by anyone.
Photo: Kenny Luo on Unsplash
Downloads are undoubtedly a part of our day-to-day lives. We download books, files, flyers, and, occasionally, a game or two for our guilty pleasure. 2017 saw over 197 billion app downloads. Downloads are clearly nothing new, but a free and uncontrolled distribution of life-threatening downloads are far from acceptable.
3D printers have also become quite popular today. Many offices, libraries, and even homes are equipped with this jaw-dropping technology. In fact, 3D printers have been used for wonderful purposes, such as building lab supplies, artery networks, and prosthetic arms. All of this has been done to enhance the quality of life, yet now 3D printers could be responsible for the future loss of many lives.
On Friday, July 27th, Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed posted blueprints for building guns using a 3D printer and was set to publish many more on August 1. The downloadable guns didn’t just somehow make their way onto the internet. Wilson was given a green light to publish the blueprints online in June by the Trump Administration, overturning the Obama Administration’s decision on the issue. However, on August 1st, a temporary restraining order was enforced, stopping the distribution of the blueprints for the time being.
These downloadable, 3D printed guns pose a number of issues. First, as in the words of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, with the help of these downloadable blueprints, “a criminal, terrorist, or anybody with access to the internet and a 3D printer can build a gun." This is beyond alarming – no license or background checks are needed to operate these self-made guns. During the Obama Administration, these same blueprints were released by Defense Distributed, and it took the State Department approximately a week to block them. In merely a week, the blueprint was downloaded over 100,000 times. At this rate, if the Trump Administration ultimately decides to allow the distribution of these downloadable guns, over five million downloads will take place in a year. Imagine how many of these people could be potential criminals, terrorists, or perpetrators of shootings.
Second, the guns themselves are extremely dangerous. A federal law, known as the Undetectable Firearms Act, makes it illegal for individuals to carry weapons that are made mostly of plastic. The act requires that guns contain a minimum amount of metal in order to be detectable in security screening. However, the downloadable guns are mostly made of plastic rather than metal, making them extremely difficult or impossible to detect. This failure to maintain the minimum amount of metal makes it easy for individuals to build and conceal these guns at any location. Wilson has also published blueprints for making parts of the controversial AR-15 rifle. Even with current licensing procedures, America has seen more than enough tragedies occur at the hands of this particular semi-automatic weapon. With Wilson’s downloadable blueprints, anyone - even minors - could bypass legal safety concerns and build their own weapons. Gun control and safety legislation becomes irrelevant when they are inapplicable to downloadable guns. The risk these guns pose to public safety cannot be ignored – with 3D printers becoming abundant throughout America in locations such as schools and college campuses, the risk of shootings and criminal activity becomes higher thanks to downloadable guns.
Despite all of the risks that such guns pose, it may be difficult to ban 3D printed guns due to lack of some legal ground. Currently, it is already legal for individuals to build and use their own weapons without registering or licensing them. 3D printed guns are not much different – they are homemade guns that are legal without licensing as long as they contain the necessary amount of metal (as well as required parts). The blueprints distributed by Wilson facilitate the creation of homemade weapons, and Defense Distributed claims that this is legal under First Amendment rights. Whether or not this is true, the underlying problem is that homemade weapons are able to bypass several safety regulations. We ought to require registration and licensing of all weapons and for the dissemination of their blueprints/plans, homemade or not, to maintain safety. Thus, the temporary block on distributing the blueprints is far from enough. The August 1st court decision will only temporarily stop the distribution of blueprints for undetectable 3D printed guns; the larger problem of how we may keep the general public safe still persists as long as licenses are not required for homemade weapons.
Fortunately, many gun control activists, including attorney generals from eight states, have filed lawsuits and taken action against the release of downloadable guns. Even gun rights advocates such as President Trump and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski have acknowledged that downloadable guns don’t “make much sense." On July 31st, before too many of the blueprints could be released, US District Judge Robert Lasnik placed a temporary restraining order, blocking further release of the blueprints. The court acknowledges the safety hazard posed by the undetectable, downloadable guns, but is set to reassess the First Amendment concerns posed by Wilson on August 10th. After that, though, the restraining order could either become permanent, or it could be overturned.
As for Wilson, the approval he received in June to distribute the downloadable guns was “personally satisfying."
After months of legal fighting, Wilson won in June when he received approval to distribute the blueprints online (although the August 1st court decision has temporarily restrained this approval). With his victory came a $40,000 burden on taxpayers, since the government agreed to pay for Wilson’s legal fees. America should not be paying for a public safety hazard. We should be fighting against it. It’s not Wilson’s personal satisfaction that America needs to care about - our safety comes first.