Jun 14, 2015 | By Kira

In separate yet related news this week, Congressional Democrats have proposed a ban on plastic guns, such as those created by 3D printers, while the US State Department has issued two new statements that aim to give it more control over the publishing of 3D printable gun files and other weapons-related ‘technical data’ online. While controversial and sure to be opposed by several public groups, both announcements mean that designing, creating, and owning 3D printed guns is about to become much more difficult.

Congressional Democrats take aim at plastic guns

The ban on plastic guns led by New York Representative Steve Isreal comes directly after a recent series of high-profile airport security lapses, in which the TSA failed to identify fake explosives and weapons carried by undercover agents at major American airports. In 67 out of 70 tests, the agents were able to carry weapons across security with little or no issues.

“If detectable weapons can make it through security checkpoints, how can we expect to catch wrongdoers carrying undetectable plastic firearms?” asked Israel. While the fake weapons used in the experiment were “highly detectable,” Israel argued that the kinds of plastic weapons being manufactured today, such as 3D printed plastic guns, aren’t recognized by conventional metal detectors, and “couldn’t be picked up by the most astute and trained TSA agent.”

That is the rationale for The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act (UFMA), backed by Israel and several other Democrats, which would prohibit the manufacture of entirely plastic guns. While current law prohibits plastic guns, a loophole allows gun owners to simply include a detachable strip of metal, which can be removed before going through airport security, making the gun undetectable.

Representative Steve Isreal (D-N.Y.)

Under the UFMA, gun owners can still design and create guns made with plastic parts, however a major component of every gun will be required to contain enough traces of metal to be identified by x-rays or airport metal detectors. Importantly, removing the metal component would either be illegal, or render the gun inoperable.

“Plastic guns are real, they can be fired, they can kill someone, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them from going right through the airport security line because they are undetectable,” Israel warned. “It’s time to modernize our airport security so the American people can count on it.”

State Department seeks to control digital weapons files

While Congress fights to convince the public that airport safety and plastic guns simply cannot co-exist, the State Department has taken a similar stance in regards to American welfare and the availability of 3D printable fun files online.

Earlier this week, the Department sent a letter to the controversial open source firearms design group, Defense Distributed, famous for making public the STL files for the world’s first fully 3D printable gun. The letter confirmed that the government will require the group to acquire specific permissions before publishing any 3D printable gun files online. 

3D printed parts for Defense Distributed's "Liberator"

If that wasn’t enough, just last week, the State Department also announced in a filing to the federal register that it will require prior approval for the online publication of any and all ‘technical data’ that provides information and/or instructions for creating weapons at home. The definition of ‘technical data’ in this case seems to be purposefully vague, however their defense is that making weapon files available to the World Wide Web could give foreign nationals access to “controlled weapons data”—a direct violation of the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

“Before posting information to the Internet, you should determine whether the information is ‘technical data,’” reads the filing. “You should review the [United State Munitions List], and if there is doubt about whether the information is ‘technical data,’ you may request a commodity jurisdiction determination from the Department. Posting ‘technical data’ to the Internet without a Department or other authorization is a violation of the ITAR even absent specific knowledge that a foreign national will read the ‘technical data.’”

While the recent filing does not directly mention 3D printed guns, it is safe to assume that 3D printable gun files will fall under the category of ‘technical data’.

Congress’ UFMA ban, the State Departments filing on ‘technical data,’ and the letter to Defense Distributed were not coordinated and, it appears, only coincidentally took place during the same week. Coincidence or not, what this shows is that the government and public are becoming more and more aware of the threat of 3D printable weapons, and the reality that the files to create them are accessible to nearly anybody with Internet access. 

While the Democratic representatives still need to make the case for their proposed ban—a similar one was introduced in 2013 but failed— both the letter to Defense Distributed and the filing on ‘technical data’ have been subject to intense scrutiny and opposition. Defense Distributed is in an on-going legal battle with the State Department and is suing them on First Amendment grounds. “Just because information can be used for some bad purpose doesn’t make it illegal to publish it,” said Matthew Goldstein, a lawyer for Defense Distributed.

However, the State Department is holding its ground. In relation to the ‘technical data’ filing specifically, they have stated that the restrictions will not limit online discussions or illustrations about guns—only data that could directly lead to their fabrication. The line between the two is certainly a bit fuzzy, but when it comes to public safety, digital arms control, and freedom of speech, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that there is a lot of grey area to be uncovered.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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Bob Loblaw wrote at 9/22/2015 1:12:12 AM:

Dear Julio, if you are a law abiding citizen you should be allowed to carry any implement of war you feel like. If you're afraid of bad guys with undetectable weapons then you should be really afraid of the 8,000 people that die of hospital acquired infections, or maybe you should be afraid of the rogue government employees funding violent radical fundamentalist groups to justify a police state. The reality is that people can make a bomb out of urine. They can get every kind of digital and physical contraband beyond any barrier. You can't ban information or guns, all you can do is infringe on their rights that our highest laws say "shall not be infringed". Advocating or participating in infringing on people's rights to bear arms or speak freely is a crime known as sedition/treason as you are levying a war on legitimate government and the people of the nation.

derwood wrote at 7/8/2015 8:44:23 PM:

World's first 3d printed 9mm semi-auto. over 700 rounds fired and still going strong. https://youtu.be/hgYk2h2b6Ng

julio wrote at 6/16/2015 4:57:16 PM:

Dear R. Ortiz If you were a criminal, which weapon would you prefer for hijacking a plane?. That's why plastic guns have to be controlled. If criminals can get legal and controlled weapons easily, just imagine what they can do with uncontrolled guns.

R. Ortiz wrote at 6/14/2015 4:36:46 PM:

These government guys are crazy, if they think that their actions will stop criminals from getting firearms! If every honest man had ten guns in his house, the crime rate would not go up. It’s when the honest people are disarmed that the criminals have a field day, because no way are they willingly going to give up their weapons. Hence it’s not guns that are the problem, rather it’s guns in the wrong hands that are the problem, and no way are government actions going to stop the wrong hands from getting guns. Government actions only stop the good guys from defending themselves and their neighbors from the bad guys. Gun making information is on the web, in different countries, so the moves against Defense Distributed are selective enforcement. Using information from the web, it’s possible to make a machine gun from common materials found in a plumbing supply shop. It’s been done. So these government people are crazy!

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