Sen. Schumer's Magical Legislative Forcefield Against 3D-Printed Guns


Sen. Charles Schumer
U.S. Congress

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-Any Television Camera), dedicated foe of private ownership of firearms, is deeply concerned that the Undetectable Firearms Act will sunset on December 9, 2013. He also thinks simply renewing the law once again is insufficient to deal with the Dread Scourge™ of 3D-printed plastic firearms that will soon be coming to a playground near you unless much tougher restrictions are imposed. His magical belief that just one more law will stop people from printing whatever they damned well please in the privacy of their workshops is a tad baffling—unless you realize that, after so many years in government, he's basically nuts.

The Hill quotes Schumer as saying, "The House bill is better than nothing, but it's not good enough. We absolutely must close the loophole that allows anyone to legally make a gun that could be rendered invisible by the easy removal of its metal part." This echoes a comment the senator made last month:

"3D printers are a miraculous technology that have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, but we need to make sure they are not being used to make deadly, undetectable weapons.  By attaching an extension of this bill to one of the several must pass pieces of legislation, we can prevent an explosion of these silent killers."

His press release continues:

The existing law, the Undetectable Firearms Act, expires on December 9th, 2013. Once expired, it will be perfectly legal to print, sell, or carry a 3D plastic gun like any other gun. If the legislation is not renewed, individuals will be able to easily carry a 3D plastic gun through a metal detector and gain access to an airplane, school, sporting event, courthouse or other government buildings.

The temptation is to assume that Schumer doesn't understand the technology of 3D printing. Perhaps he believes printers are three stories high, sit on street corners emitting clouds of steam, and fire flares in the air when they produce objects he doesn't like.

In fact, though, it's abvious that a leading contender for the most annoying man in the United States Senate doesn't understand law. He thinks passing legislation through Congress, and then getting it signed by the president, is equivalent to altering gravity or the speed of light. Pass another bill, he suggests, and manufacturing plastic guns will then become not just illegal, but impossible.

This, needless to say, is not true. If nothing else, we may finally have evidence that spending too long in public office actually causes insanity. Years of ranting and unwatched Sunday morning TV appearances really can lead people to believe that laws have special powers beyond people's agreement, or at least their willingess to comply when in view of enforcers.

But the wonder and promise of 3D printers, as with so much modern technology, is its small-scale and private nature. Once you have a printer in your possession, it's really impossible to tell what you're using it for. Even the materials they use are generic. Are you using ABS plastic to print pistols? Or lawn gnomes? Who the hell knows?

If somebody wants to print and "carry a 3D plastic gun through a metal detector," the Undetectable Firearms Act simply won't play a role in the matter. Good people won't pose a threat to others whether or not the law is on the books, and bad people won't be deterred by the law. Under the circumstances, the good people may be thankful they can sneak their plastic guns through, too, in order to deal with any predators who show up.

But Schumer seems unlikely to agree. He's fully invested in his belief that laws have magical powers, and can actually change what's possible in the world. If anybody can disabuse him of that notion, it might save us all a lot of hassle.