Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed made history with the world’s first fully printed 3D gun. The blueprints are available online for free, but are a 3D printed gun even legal?
Yes and no. To understand all of the laws surrounding this controversial firearm, you have to take a look at the nitty-gritty details surrounding the Constitution and US gun control laws.
First off, it’s worth mentioning that the actual blueprints are 100% legal. The blueprints fall under the First Amendment protection of free speech, so an individual can download, upload, and distribute 3D printed blueprints without worrying about the law. The only way that it could be illegal is if the creator copyrighted and controlled the blueprints. At that point, illegally obtaining a copy of the blueprints would be the same as illegally downloading a movie or a song.
As soon as you print out a 3D gun, that’s when you start breaking laws. The 1988 Undetectable Firearms Act (UFA) states that it is illegal for anybody to "manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer or receive" a firearm that can’t be detect once its magazines, stocks, or grips are removed. The gunsmiths at Defense Distributed also had to include a six-ounce chunk of metal into the gun so that it would be detectable by metal detectors. Without that metal, the firearm would be a violation of the UFA.
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This is a law that everybody has to follow, including big-name gun manufacturing companies like Glock and Colt.
Even though Wilson and his colleagues at Defense Distributed had reason to be excited about the breakthrough, he was quick to point out the dangers of making a 3D printed weapon. He wrote on the forums, "Because of the public profile and interest over this kind of activity at the moment, you WILL be made an example of. You WILL go to federal prison, and you WILL never be able to own a firearm again."
But when did the law ever slow down criminals? Julian Sanchez, a researcher at the Cato Institute, added, “There's no obvious way to enforce a ban on what someone prints up in their own basement, at least without a level of ubiquitous surveillance we all ought to find unacceptable.”
The laws surrounding 3D printed guns may change dramatically by the time 2014 rolls around. The UFA is set to expire this year, so Rep. Steven Israel (D, NY) hopes to create a “common-sense safety measure that ensures that criminals and terrorists cannot bring firearm components, and entire firearms onto airplanes.”
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The future of 3D printed guns is hazy, but right now the laws are quite clear: talk about 3D printed guns all you want, but print one out at your own risk.