3-D Printing In The Crosshairs With Federal Ban On Plastic Gun PartsAmericans can go to prison for possessing an arbitrary plastic object, and more bans may be on the way.
A twenty-five year old ban on “undetectable firearms” is coming up for a renewal, and gun control zealots are looking to renew it and possibly even make it more stringent. This will have direct implications on the exciting new 3-D printing technology that allows people to manufacture plastic parts at home.
With a 3-D printer, it is possible for private individuals to “print” complex three-dimensional parts and objects from their computer with the click of a mouse. All a person needs is an electronic file detailing the specifications of the part to be printed, and a desktop 3-D printer.
The applications of this technology is truly limitless and will be revolutionary once it gets a little more affordable and accessible. These 3-D printers give people the ability to cheaply and instantly manufacture parts that could be used for home improvement, auto repair, entertainment, business, and more. In the future there will be no need to spend exorbitant amounts of money — and weeks of delay — waiting on obscure mail-order parts. It will be possible to print them the same day.
The amazing technology has its detractors, though, who don’t like too much freedom in the hands of unpermitted, anonymous individuals. The fear comes from the many inventive uses for 3-D print technology in the world of firearms. There is such fear over plastic firearms that prohibitionists had them banned decades before the technology was viable.
But today, it is viable. In fact, as was proven by Defense Distributed earlier this year, it is now possible to manufacture an entire gun out of 3-D printed parts. In the Wiki-Weapons project, the world’s first 3-D printed gun was assembled, test-fired, and proven to work.
The electronic files for “The Liberator” were placed on the internet and downloaded over 100,000 times. Despite the federal government demanding that the original source be taken down, the files (and others) are still available for download in torrent form. Whether the police state advocates like it or not, the plans to print a 3-D gun are ubiquitous on the internet.
Months later, there are even more 3-D firearm designs, and even more advancements in the printing technology, which is getting cheaper every day.
Now, for the third time in 25 years, a ban on “undetectable weapons” is set to expire and Republicans and Democrats in congress have until December 9th to decide how best to prevent any freedoms to be relinquished into the hands of Americans. The current debate appears to be whether to maintain the already oppressive status quo or to criminalize even more victimless, arbitrary objects and behaviors.
This ban stems back to the 1980s, when hysterical anti-freedom lobbyists convinced congress that plastic guns were the next great menace to the country. And so, the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 was passed overwhelmingly by congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan (R) on November 10th, 1988. The ban came with a 10 year sunset clause.
It became a federal crime to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive any firearm that is not detectable by walk-through metal detection. A “plastic gun” that does not contain 3.7 ounces of steel could get a person locked in federal prison for 5 years.
Scheduled to expire on November 10, 1998, the two parties once again united to renew the ban. Despite maintaining majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans — led by noted statist House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) — made no effort to stop it. All but four U.S. Representatives voted for it. It was then signed by prolific gun-grabber President Bill Clinton (D) in October 1998, extending the ban another 5 years.
The process was again repeated in 2003, when Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and White House. In bipartisan fashion, the gun ban was disappointingly renewed for an additional 10 years. President George W. Bush’s (R) signature made it official.
The current law is 18 USC § 922 (p).
Now, with another expiration imminent, the usual suspects are scrambling to keep federal the gun ban alive. Democrats, led by Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), are proposing H. R. 1474 to extend the ban with additional prohibitions, covering not only complete firearms, but also parts, receivers, and magazines made by private individuals.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is worried that additional gun control measures might cause the expiration to lapse. “They're considering altering it, putting more language in it,” he said. “There's concern that it may be altered in a way that would be problematic.”
Other versions of the bill have entered the House and Senate, maintaining the status quo without extra prohibitions. Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) introduced a renewal in the House, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced a renewal in the Senate.
“It's hard to believe that anyone would oppose a piece of legislation like this, so tied into, so connected with our safety,” snarled Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who advocates strengthening the federal gun ban. Citing living “in a world of terrorism,” Schumer went on to claim that without this ban people would be free to bring guns into “airports, stadiums, schools” Of course, his this was a red herring designed to inflame the public. The expiration of the 1988 ban does not alter the legality of possessing a firearm in any location whatsoever.
While it is unsurprising when anti-freedom groups and politicians push for more federal powers and prohibition laws, it is disappointing when even from those who advocate following the U.S. constitution and respecting individual rights are missing in action.
Despite several opportunities to derail it, the National Rifle Association has never provided any notable opposition to the ban, reportedly citing it as being acceptable federal legislation since it didn’t affect very many firearms in production in 1988. It has yet to give any indication of reversing its position and remains in silent consent to the gun ban, one of many frustrations that gun owners have with the NRA.
With the ease of 3-D printing and the limitless ability to be spread plans across the internet, any further attempt to criminalize 3-D printing will prove embarrassingly ineffective. The technology is here to stay and even draconian efforts to stop it will fail to keep anyone any safer. More importantly, the federal government has no business trying to micromanage something like this and criminalizing plastic objects and victimless crimes.
Congress should do the right thing and let the gun ban expire permanently, and promote the unimpeded use of 3-D printing technology by private individuals. The shameful threats of imprisonment for possessing an arbitrary plastic object is exactly the kind of behavior we would expect from a police state, not a free country.
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