3D Printing

3D-Printed Handgun Prompts Congressman To Propose Impotent Legislation

|

3D printed handgun
Michael Thad Carter, Forbes

After Forbes's Andy Greenberg broke the news that Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed have successfully created a (apparently) working gun with a 3D printer, Rep. Steve Israel, who has been warning of doom, doom!, should this day come, quickly issued a press release calling for new laws to head off the menace of DIY weaponry. Israel's objection is, allegedly, that Wilson's 3D-printed gun is made of ABS plastic, and therefore invisible to metal detectors (Wilson built a hunk of metal into his gun to address this concern, but it could easily be left out). It's hard to believe, though, that the congressman would be thrilled if Wilson had printed his pistol out of metal, instead. Not that it matters, though — the legal tweak that Steve Israel proposes is about as enforceable as a ban on photocopying your own ass in your home office.

Writes one of Rep. Israel's loyal minions:

Melville, NY—Today, following news of a working plastic gun made almost entirely on a 3D printer, Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) renewed his call for passage of his recently-introduced Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act that extends the ban on plastic firearms and includes homemade, plastic high-capacity magazines and receivers. The existing ban on plastic guns expires this year and does not clearly cover these major components. On Friday, Defense Distributed, a group of homemade gun enthusiasts, premiered a plastic firearm with only one small necessary metal part, a single nail used as the firing pin.

Rep. Israel said, "Security checkpoints, background checks, and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print plastic firearms at home and bring those firearms through metal detectors with no one the wiser. When I started talking about the issue of plastic firearms months ago, I was told the idea of a plastic gun is science-fiction. Now that this technology appears to be upon us, we need to act now to extend the ban on plastic firearms."

The Defense Distributed project circumvents the current Undetectable Firearms Act by including an extraneous block of metal in the gun, making the firearm detectable by metal detector. However, those who wish to smuggle guns onto planes and into high security areas will soon be able to download the digital blueprints from Defense Distributed's website and forgo the extraneous metal, producing guns completely undetectable by metal detector.

The revamped Undetectable Firearms Act that Rep. Israel wrote makes it illegal to manufacture, own, transport, buy, or sell any firearm, receiver, or magazine that is homemade and not detectable by metal detector and/or does not present an accurate image when put through an x-ray machine. The reauthorization would extend the life of the bill for another 10 years from the date of enactment.

Rep. Steve Israel
U.S. Congress

The legislation (PDF) that Rep. Israel proposes (that's the nervous fellow himself to the right) would establish a "security exemplar" as a standard that all homemade firearms would have to meet. Any weapon less detectable would be illegal. A similar restriction would be extended to homemade ammunition magazines. This piece of legislation doesn't propose to ban DIY manufacturing — just to restrict it to weapons with substantial metal components — but it's hard to see this as anything other than a shot across the bow. A shot from a popgun.

Home manufacturers are the specific target here, since the legislation refers to the alleged threat posed by "computer numerical control mills ('CNC mills'), 3-dimensional printers ('3D printers'), and laser cutting machines" in the hands of "a person who is not a licensed manufacturer." And that's precisely the flaw with the "Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act" — it proposes to tell people what they can make with devices that are sitting in their workshops, out of sight of prying eyes. The bad guys from which the law is supposedly intended to protect us would be inconvenienced only if they actually took their printers to the airport to make their guns at the ticket counter in public view, though the law could effectively prevent harmless people from bringing 3D-printed guns and magazines made of plastic to commercial ranges (thought there's no requirement that ranges purchase magnetometers to test such weapons). What the law absolutely can't do is reach into private spaces to prevent the manufacture of forbidden devices.

I suppose Rep. Israel would argue that there's a symbolic importance to his legislation, to demonstrate the government's firm intention to keep the public safe from … new things? What's really demonstrated by his proposed bill, however, is just how impotent the government is when opposed by newly empowered individuals.

NEXT: Slayer Guitarist Jeff Hanneman, RIP

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Enforceability aside, I wonder if there’s a way small amounts of metal could be mixed with the plastic to make it detectable.

    1. You didn’t read the article, did you?

      1. I did. I don’t mean adding chunks of metal into the gun, I mean mixing specks of it into the plastic itself.

        1. So suddenly we’re differentiating between specks and chunks? That’s going to have to be added as a rider on Israel’s bill. He hadn’t planned for that.

          1. It’s just a theoretical question, e.g., whether doing so would damage the printer.

            1. Yes, or at least fuck up the print.

              In chunks mixed into the plastic, that is. It wouldn’t work.

              There are people playing with embedding metal wire into printed pieces to improve strength or conductivity but at a homemade level I don’t think anyone’s done it yet.

          2. Spics and Chinks?

    2. Yes. There are ferromagnetic plastics that are made with tiny magnetic particles embedded.

      1. Thank you, that’s all I wanted to know. Geez.

    3. They don’t even use metal detectors any more at the airport. This thing would be picked up on the Rape-u-scannners and you would be “patted down” for sure.

  2. Is the ammunition plastic, too?

    1. Don’t bring logic into this argument. You should be very afraid of these plastic death machines, and Rep. Israel is trying to do something about it!

      1. Rep. Israel is trying to do something about it!

        Right, it’s for the children, I’m sure.

        Now if we could only get that thought crime bill passed, we could jail crazy radicals like Cody Wilson for even thinking about plastic bullets. And FOE will be sitting right beside of him in that cell. It’s the only way we can ever insure that we’re safe.

        1. ensure, Gawks I hatez that damn word!

          1. At least you know the difference.

      2. Not that I agree with R Israel but . . .

        at one time making the lower out of plastic was considered impossible – its not hard to imagine a not too distant future where the materials science is at a point that you can print barrels and casings and springs.

        1. You can print barrels and springs. Casings and bullets, not yet.

        2. They could probably do plastic bullets already, and walls of the casing are just a matter of getting strong/thin enough materials. But igniting gunpowder using purely plastic parts is going to be difficult.

          1. why does the casing have to be thin? sure, the thinner it is the more powder but you could change the dimensions to accomodate more powder.

            1. Very true. I guess I was assuming that the plastic gun would have to emulate existing metal guns but that’s unnecessary if you design the cartridge specifically for plastic.

              I still don’t see how they can ignite the gunpowder with plastic.

              1. “I still don’t see how they can ignite the gunpowder with plastic.”

                Plastics can be formulated to be pretty reactive; maybe it won’t be “gunpowder”.

              2. The metal firing pin doesn’t ignite the primer by sparking – it does it through impact alone.

            2. In metallic gun technology, the casing has to be thin enough to expand and seal against the walls of the chamber to prevent gas leakage in the wrong direction, yet flexible enough to “unseal” itself when the pressure is released, so the casing can be extracted.

              There’s no reason a firing pin couldn’t be made of something hard but radiotransparent, such as a ceramic or even a synthetic gemstone. Or a new type of ammo (like the old “trounds”) that fire upon simple application of current could be manufactured on the same printers.

        3. Why bother printing a gun when you can send in a bee-sized drone?

    2. Yeah, this was the first thing I was thinking. A plastic gun with no ammunition is less of a threat than a nailclipper.

  3. This won’t be over until someone comes up with pattern my Mom can stitch with her embroidery machine to yield a working firearm. #WarOnEtsy

  4. Rep. Steve Israel

    Man, that dude’s busy. I just read he bombed targets in Syria, yesterday. Where does he find the time?

    Officials: Israel launches airstrike on Syria

    http://seattletimes.com/html/n…..iaxml.html

    1. This is a gross breach of authority. With powers like this, it’s only a matter of time before Steve Israel is hunting plastic fabricators with drones.

  5. Never underestimate the government’s ability to regulate or ban something through sheer force of will.

    The Defense Distributed project circumvents the current Undetectable Firearms Act by including an extraneous block of metal in the gun, making the firearm detectable by metal detector.

    Why?

    Oh, Defense Distributed thinks that by making these overtures that the anti-gunners will just… go away.

    Robert Levy should get together with these guys and discuss strategy.

    1. Oh, Defense Distributed thinks that by making these overtures that the anti-gunners will just… go away.

      Wrong. They just don’t want to get arrested for producing an illegal gun. By keeping that piece of metal in it, they haven’t broken any laws and the government can’t do anything.

      1. But it’s not illegal. It appears to me that DD is trying to ‘head something off at the pass’.

        And we know how well that works.

        1. I think you’re wrong about that.

          The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 (HR 4445)[1] makes it illegal[2] to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer or receive any firearm that is not detectable by walk-through metal detectors or has major components that do not generate an accurate image when subjected to inspection by airport x-ray machines.

          You aren’t even allowed to manufacture an undetectable firearm. If they didn’t put that metal in there, they would be breaking the Undetectable Firearms Act. They put it there so they don’t get arrested.

          1. Wait, if this law already exists, then what is Israel doing it again for?

            1. Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) renewed his call for passage of his recently-introduced Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act that extends the ban on plastic firearms and includes homemade, plastic high-capacity magazines and receivers. The existing ban on plastic guns expires this year and does not clearly cover these major components. On Friday, Defense Distributed, a group of homemade gun enthusiasts, premiered a plastic firearm with only one small necessary metal part, a single nail used as the firing pin.

              I think he wants to extend the ban and also make new things illegal. Based on this, the current printed firearms would be legal because they have the single piece of metal. I think he wants to make that illegal as well so that 3D printing of firearms is entirely illegal, even if it would show up on a scanner.

          2. Now that this technology appears to be upon us, we need to act now to extend the ban on plastic firearms.

            Because banning things ensures they will never be used.

            See:

            marijuana
            cocaine
            heroin
            bombs…

            God knows anyone thinking of hijacking an airplane would never think of violating The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. They might get in trouble.

            Israel wrote makes it illegal to manufacture, own, transport, buy, or sell any firearm, receiver, or magazine that is homemade and not detectable by metal detector and/or does not present an accurate image when put through an x-ray machine.

            Because WE DICTATE WHAT GUNS SHOULD LOOK LIKE.

            1. Because WE DICTATE WHAT GUNS SHOULD LOOK LIKE.

              THIS. The plastic guns don’t look like conventional metal guns, because of the constraints imposed by using plastic to channel all that energy and heat from a fired bullet.

              But they’re still guns. They can still kill someone.

              1. Huh? The plastic gun in the picture looks like a gun. Israel is referring to the fact that all that will show up in an X-ray of that gun is a metal lump inside which does not have the shape of the full gun.

                1. The wording is ambiguous, and you can bet the feds would push the envelope on that ambiguity. That wording could be interpreted by LEOs as “If it doesn’t look like a conventional gun as I subjectively interpret that, then I can arrest the person.”

                  The plastic gun doesn’t look much like a conventional bullet-firing gun to me, what with the lack of a barrel. Looks more like a roofing stapler or a water squirt gun to me.

            2. Er, the whole point of an X-ray machine is that some objects show up and others don’t. A metal object shows up with the same shape it has in visible light, while a plastic object does not. That’s what he’s referring to.

              1. Umm…no? X-rays will definitely pick up plastics pretty easily. Ever put your laptop through an airport scanner? It picks up the plastic pretty easily. Or had an X-ray at the hospital? It picks up the bone pretty easily. Metal is not at all required…

                1. I think that Israel just has no technical knowledge and thinks that only metal is picked up on an X-ray. Or maybe he’s smart and realizes that these plastic guns could be made to look like ANYTHING.

  6. “Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act that extends the ban on plastic firearms and includes homemade, plastic high-capacity magazines and receivers”

    How can you ban them if you can’t even detect them?

    That which is Undetectable is now BANNED!

    1. If the undetectable becomes briefly detectable, then you’re in big trouble.

      1. Or conversely, on the path to beatification.

  7. Why aren’t we just calling 3D-Printers “replicators”?

    1. Because they can create something that hasn’t yet been created.

      If a designer creates a CAD drawing of an original design, that’s not really replicating, unless you’re arguing that it’s ‘replicating’ the drawing.

      At that point, EVERYTHING is a replicator.

    2. I always found it odd that the replicators and holodeck on Star Trek could create fully functional weapons.

      Doesn’t the Nanny State Federation have sensible gun control?!

      1. It was a military vessel, remember…

        1. With weapons under lockdown, except for the active security teams. But I doubt the holodeck weapons worked outside of it, or the “computer” would let you replicate a bazooka to take to your meeting with Kirk.

          1. They were never very consistent about what happened if you tried to bring Holodeck matter out of the Holodeck. The plot of several episodes centered on Holomatter immediately dissolving upon exiting, but in others Captain Picard gets hit with Holodeck snowballs while walking through the hallway, Data brings a drawing by Prof. Moriarty from the holodeck all the way to the observation lounge without disintegrating, and Dr. Pulaski stuffs herself with food made on the holodeck and doesn’t suffer massive internal bodily ruptures when she leaves.

  8. Has anyone covered this particular new technology?

    ” The octorotor (eight propellers) drone, scheduled to make its debut at South Africa’s OppiKoppi music festival this August, will air-drop beer to thirsty attendees during the three-day concert, Paste magazine reports.

    “All a music fan needs to do is order a beer from his or her cellphone. A beer vendor attaches a parachute to the beer, loads it onto the beer drone, and off it goes.”

    http://www.livescience.com/293…..koppi.html

    1. Now the government has a problem with drones.

      “We didn’t know they could be used to deliver fun! Make them illegal!”

      1. The CIA will corrupt this technology for its own purposes.

        “Run – the infidels are dropping Budweiser on us!”

    2. Will they deliver multiple beers per flight, or does that require a double-tap?

    3. OK, they got the drones down pat, but how about the parachute technology?

    4. All a music fan needs to do is order a beer from his or her cellphone. A beer vendor attaches a parachute to the beer, loads it onto the beer drone, and off it goes.

      Finally, the sci-fi future we’ve been waiting for has arrived!

  9. Just in case someone did not already know about this site:

    http://improguns.blogspot.com/

    1. This looks unpleasant to shoot.

      1. Holy muzzle flip, Batman!

    1. Good for them. I hope the dope who decided to prosecute gets run out of town on a literal rail.

      1. While I don’t condone violence against non-violent actors, I’m willing to consider the argument that malicious prosecution and overcharging are acts of aggression and threatened violence. The return of practices like running people out of town on a rail or tar and feathering them John Adams style might not be completely inappropriate for moral criminals like these.

  10. It’s great to see people maneuver out beyond the government’s control.

    How are they going to stop people from printing their own guns?

    They can’t.

    They just can’t.

    1. They know that. They’ll just make them illegal and when someone posts on the internet that they’ve made one, especially if that someone is spouting anti-government stuff, then the swat team will show up at that someone’s door to search for illegal guns. And to shoot dogs of course.

    2. They can’t.

      They just can’t

      But you know sure as shit they’re gonna try.

        1. You best not have and congress critter dolls in your house! We know what you’re up to!

          Voodoo anarchist!

      1. Their goal is to create so many laws that it will be nearly impossible to go about your daily life without breaking a bunch of them, without even knowing it.

        Then they just selectively enforce the laws against their political enemies, those citizens that don’t blindly follow every government dictate, while they themselves are above the law, totally immune.

        Our congress has been at this for decades. Soon everything will be a crime.

        They will use Obamacare and the surveillance state to monitor everything you do, and when you do something they don’t like, their goons will show up at your door.

        Hey, take a looksee at this, Joe Blow down there on Dingo Road, who has 2 young children, bought 5 cases of sugary drinks last month! And he’s been posting anti-government stuff on a website. Child endangerment! And put him on the terrorists watch list! Get him, confiscate any guns and the children!

        1. Have a 3-D printer, a nail, and a cartridge?

          Constructive possession, bitch!

  11. Here’s a clip of Volto!. Danny’s shirt is pretty awesome.

  12. “…does not present an accurate image when put through an x-ray machine…”

    Is it just me, or does this clause really not actually mean anything? If a substance is transparent to X-rays, then its failure to appear in an X-ray image cannot be called anything but 100% accurate.

    1. Dammit X, you just made ’em think about reading the bill!

    2. I figured the idea was things like a gun that would, to an x-ray, appear innocuous. Like an electric razor or something.

      I wonder if there’s a market for items that show as obscene on x-ray, or have smart ass comments, etc.

      TSA goon watching the x-ray, suddenly gets a bag that says “this is why you should have finished high school.”

      1. Well of course that was the idea, but the resulting language is another example of trying to regulate what you don’t understand.

        1. If someone asked you for an accurate self-portrait and you gave them an X-ray image of your head, they’d have a legitimate beef. Parts of you don’t show up on an X-ray so it’s not accurate.

          1. What if someone asked Pablo Picasso for an accurate self-portrait?

            I mean sure, in some cases the desired EM spectrum is clearly implied, but we’re talking about X-rays here. The idea he’s trying to get across is obvious but the wording is semantically null. Accuracy is a property of the imager, not of the subject.

      2. “I wonder if there’s a market for items that show as obscene on x-ray, or have smart ass comments, etc.”

        Of course. Sort of surprised someone who frequents Reason hasn’t seen them:

        http://cargocollective.com/4thamendment

    3. By “accurate” they mean “the same shape as it would have when viewed under visible light”.

      I mean, if you went to the airport with a plastic gun totally unconcealed and put it on the belt, you’d get nabbed straightaway. The point of an X-ray machine is to search inside containers where something may be concealed from the visible spectrum.

      1. But things don’t retain the same shape when viewed under X-ray that they had under visible light. They display the shape that their opaque or reflective constituents present to the sensor.

        “Accurate” implies a misunderstanding of what’s happening in an X-ray search. The use of the word implies that the speaker thinks that an X-ray scan turns up guns. It does not. It turns up things that are opaque to or reflective of (depending on the method) X-rays. That’s all it does. The operator infers the presence of contraband from what results he sees. But the material that contraband is made of does nothing to the accuracy of the sensor, it simply evades the operator by not meeting expectations.

  13. Seems like an excise tax on 3D printers and whatever plastic material goes into them is more likely to happen eventually. It won’t stop people from making guns or anything else with their machines, and if the tax is more than nominal it might result in people finding less-taxed alternative machines and supplies, but it will be “something” for Congress to do. And hey, if they accomplish nothing but making it slightly harder for poor people to have access to self-defense and new technology, isn’t that something we can all be proud of?

  14. Uh, why go through the scanners at all with this plastic gun? Just print it out when you get there, duh.

    1. Much like life, hijacking is about the journey, not the destination.

  15. my classmate’s sister-in-law makes $63/hr on the internet. She has been out of a job for seven months but last month her payment was $12955 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site http://WWW.DAZ7.COM

  16. lol, stupid lawmakers are so stupid lol. Laws are for honest folk.

    http://www.Total-Anon.tk

    1. Anonbot, you should deal with these work-at-home bastards moving in on your turf.

    2. anonbot and ronaldlouis
      sittin’ in a tree,
      k-i-s-s-i-n-g!

  17. I have an idea who’s time has come! Let’s just not have any laws, REGARDLESS of how sensible they may be!!!!!

  18. No law is going to completely stop criminals. But that’s not a reason to get rid of all laws, now is it? Expanded background checks would have made it much more difficult for criminals and terrorists to acquire guns, which they can currently do very easily at gun shows and on the Internet. There’s no legitimate argument against making it harder for the next Adam Lanza or Tsarnaev brothers to get their hands on guns. But by all means, keep standing in the way of sane, rational reform–I’m liking the GOP’s new identity as the protector of maniacs and terrorists. It’ll come in handy in 2014.

    1. “There’s no legitimate argument against making it harder for the next Adam Lanza or Tsarnaev brothers to get their hands on guns.”

      You mean the gun Adam Lanza didn’t buy, but took from his mom? Or the gun Tamerlan Tsarnaev bought illegally?

      You know as little about gun laws as gun grabbers usually do. Maybe you shouldn’t talk about things you have no knowledge of.

      1. My point is that there HAS to be some regulations that separate todays society from the lawlessness of say 1840, you have an answer? I’ll wager you do not.

        1. The 1840s were lawless? I’m sure congress and the president would be surprised to hear that.

    2. Expanded background checks would have made it much more difficult for criminals and terrorists to acquire guns, which they can currently do very easily at gun shows and on the Internet.

      Citation please.

      Also I think you may be retarded and if so please let us know so I can stop bothering you.

  19. I want to watch, from a great distance, the first person to fire a plastic gun with no metal barrel.

  20. Irish. Who should be held responsible for Newton and Aurora? Enlighten me please, as I see no easy answer.

    1. The shooters.

    2. Who should be held responsible for Newton and Aurora?

      Are you retarded?

    3. It’s a sockpuppet. Nobody smart enough to use the internet is this stupid.

  21. when home chemistry kits can manufacture any drug, that is will freedom will win.

  22. Back before the war on drugs gave gangs a source of income, they used to make zip guns out of things like car radio antennas, which happen to be .22″ in diameter.

    “Modern” firearms are 19th century technology.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improvised_firearm

  23. Everyone whose first reaction upon the arrival of a new concept is to propose a law should go fuck themselves.

  24. “What the law absolutely can’t do is reach into private spaces to prevent the manufacture of forbidden devices.”

    Right? not like, say, whiskey, blunts, or raw milk.

  25. “What the law absolutely can’t do is reach into private spaces to prevent the manufacture of forbidden devices.”

    You foolishly assume that there’s such a thing as a private space (other than your 12 year old daughter’s ladyparts when she wants to avoid the consequences of underage sex) any more.

    The state of Washington pointed the way on that one: just allow the cops in your house when they think it necessary as long as you own a CNC or 3D printer.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.