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Thursday, 14 November 2013 14:41

3-D Plastic Printing Technology May Make Gun Detection "Impossible"

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With the imminent expiration of the Undetectable Firearms Act on December 9, the media and federal agencies are ramping up concerns about public safety and black market manufacture of weapons without serial numbers. Huffington Post ran an article warning that “plastic guns” could blow up in the hands of unskilled users and worrying that plastic 3-D printed guns “could evade metal detectors at courthouses, schools and other public places.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) told the press on Wednesday that even if the current law is extended or enhanced, it will remain nearly impossible to detect such guns using current tracking technology. Richard Marianos, a spokesman for the ATF, said that his agency’s concern isn’t with common street criminals making weapons in their basements or garages, but with sophisticated assassins:

[This enhanced technology] is something that we've never seen before. It can defeat metal detection, and that’s something we’re concerned about....

This is more for someone who wants to get into an area and perhaps be an assassin. Or they want to go to a courthouse and shoot a witness.

The Undetectable Firearms Act grew out of concerns in the early 1980s that Gaston Glock’s invention of polymer handguns could escape detection, despite substantial metal parts being used in their construction. Never unwilling to miss an opportunity to pass more legislation, congress considered and then passed the Act in October 1988, prohibiting the manufacture, possession, or transfer of firearms with less than 3.7 ounces of metal content. The National Rifle Association supported the bill as it didn't affect existing handguns or their owners. Built into the law was a 10-year sunset clause but the law was renewed in 1998 for five years, and again for ten years in December 2003. That renewal expires on December 9, 2013.

When the ATF shut down Cody Wilson’s website last May, the cat was out of the bag as his 3-D printing software for his “Liberator .380” handgun had already been downloaded more than 100,000 times. Since then, mirror sites such as Pirate Bay have made those plans available for download.

One of those who downloaded Wilson’s plans enhanced them and built a rifle, from which fired 14 rounds successfully. Solid Concepts of California has gone even further, developing and manufacturing what it calls “The World’s First 3D Printed Metal Gun”, mimicking John Browning’s Colt .45, and firing it successfully 500 times without incident. Further enhancements are no doubt being developed elsewhere, outstripping federal attempts to regulate, much less eliminate, the burgeoning flow of 3-D weapons.

This is causing severe heartburn for legislators who see nothing but disaster and catastrophe resulting from such unbridled freedom, including Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), along with Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). Said Schumer, “The expiration of this law, combined with advances in 3-D printing, make what was once a hypothetical threat into a terrifying reality. We are actively exploring all options to pass legislation that will eliminate the problem.” Israel echoed Schumer: “Back then, in 1988, the notion of a 3-D plastic gun was science fiction. Now, a month away, it is reality.” But Senator Nelson made the case best for total elimination of such fearsome weapons from the hands of the citizenry:

The fact that anyone with the right equipment can make a fully-functioning weapon from their own home with the click of a mouse is a truly frightening concept.

Weapons like these pose a serious threat to our national security and we need to do everything we can to keep them off the streets.

Back in May a bulletin issued by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center warned that these advances were coming, and that they would make it nearly impossible for new laws, or extensions or upgrades of old ones, to track the new 3-D weaponry:

Significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printer files for firearms components, and difficulties regulating file sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns....

Proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent, their production. Even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these digital files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files....

Limiting access may be impossible.

That’s the whole point, according to J.D. Tuccille, writing for Reason magazine:

The DIY [do-it-yourself] revolution that brings us easily produced homemade guns, and so much more, is [no longer] a goal confined to wishful thinking. That ... is the whole idea of developing and spreading the technology: to put its control beyond the practical reach of the control freaks.

As far as the legislation proposed by those “control freaks” — Schumer, Nelson and Israel — is concerned, its prospects appear to be dim.

Photo of MakerBot "Replicator 2" 3-D printer

 

A graduate of Cornell University and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American magazine and blogs frequently at www.LightFromTheRight.com, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

4 comments

  • Comment Link R Jensen Thursday, 14 November 2013 20:45 posted by R Jensen

    "The fact that anyone with the right equipment can make a fully-functioning weapon from their own home with the click of a mouse is a truly frightening concept."

    That's the point. "When people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government (and the sycophant media) fears the people, there is liberty."

  • Comment Link Tionico Thursday, 14 November 2013 20:07 posted by Tionico

    By the bye, John Moses Browning did not develop the "Colt .45. He developed the M1911 autoloading pistol, which fires the .45 ACP, a different round entirely. He also developed the venerable Browning Hi Power, early on in nine mm Parabellum, but later also available chambered in the far more potent .40 Smith and Wesson.

  • Comment Link Tionico Thursday, 14 November 2013 20:03 posted by Tionico

    These goofs simply don't GET IT, do they? It ain't about the availaibllity of weapons, its into whose hands they find their way. If they would stop doing so many nasty things as our "rulers", the "blowback" against them, and resultant plots to "take care" of them would greatly diminish. LIke they keep telling US (about the universal surveillance they ocntinue forcing upon us) "if you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to fear". Maybe they might consider a hard look at what THEY are doing to US.

    Over history men determined todo harm to others, for whatever reason (justly or otherwise) have never been at total loss as to how to carry it off. Takedown rifles have been smuggled into "secure" places, getting past guards because of their small size. Metal detectors now limit this. Ceramic knives have been got past metal detectors and used to assassinate. Now plastic guns can be made to get past metal detectors. Someone will figure out a means of detecting those, knowing there will be a HUGE and VERY lucrative market to the very governments that fear retribution for their actions such that someone else figured out a way round the metal detectors. I rather think the "milimeter wave" full body scanners now in use at our airports should pick up these plastic guns. Watch TSA and DHS order a few thousand more of these, setting them up at football games, weddings, high school proms, city parks, bus stations..... then someone else will figure out a way to get round those. Sort of like the old Spy vs Spy cartoon panels in the old Mad Magazine... prescient, or what? These guys can pass all the legislation they want to pass..... those sufficiently determined WILL figure out how to game the system to accomplish their goals, fair or foul.

  • Comment Link rprew Thursday, 14 November 2013 15:16 posted by rprew

    This is terrifying. We need to immediately enact legislation to prevent the ATF from obtaining 3-D printers.

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