On Wednesday, it will be totally legal to download instructions on how to make a plastic handgun using a 3D printer. You're going to be hearing a lot about 3D guns in the near future, but what are 3D guns, exactly? Questions about these potentially untraceable, undetectable firearms remain, even as they are about to become more widely available to the public.
Thanks to a recent settlement between the State Department and Defense Distributed, Defense Distributed's founder, Cody Wilson, will be allowed to post his 3D gun blueprints on his website, according to CBS News. However, on Monday, eight state attorneys general and the District of Columbia argued in a federal lawsuit that these downloadable weapons are a national security threat, and sued Defense Distributed, the Second Amendment Foundation, and the State Department, as well as other federal agencies that regulate weapons, The Chicago Tribune reported.
Even President Donald Trump is personally weighing in on the controversy. On Tuesday, he tweeted, "I am looking into 3D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!" But The Chicago Tribune pointed out that technically, his administration actually helped make these 3D guns available to the public.
So what is a 3D gun, really? 3D printing uses computer-generated digital models to make real objects, CNN reported, and if someone has the plans to make a gun and a 3D printer, that's all they need to make these guns.
The guns that could be made from Defense Distributed would be plastic and would not have serial numbers, making them untraceable, according to The Chicago Tribune. The blueprints that would be made available by Defense Distributed include AR-15s, AR-10s, a pistol dubbed the "Liberator," and a Ruger 10/22.
That sort of open availability to firearms for anyone who can download the plans and make them does seem a little bit unsettling. But the printers needed to make 3D guns are quite expensive, and the 3D guns made from them can disintegrate quickly, according to The Miami Herald. So there's some question whether people will really go to the trouble of making them, especially since it's not exactly difficult to get a regular gun in this country as it is.
No background check will be required for 3D guns, since you can make them yourself, USA Today reported. That's a pretty scary thought, for sure, but it might not be as easy to even make working 3D guns, background check or no, in the first place as you might think. An early design of a 3D printed gun made by federal agents shattered after just one shot, the outlet noted, possibly because the plastic wasn't of good quality. A second gun, which was made from a higher grade resin, did not shatter like the first one.
So in order to make a 3D gun, you need the plans from online, a 3D printer, and the right high quality materials to make them. It's definitely possible, but more difficult to create these firearms than some may believe at first glance.
However, like with any technology, this is only the beginning. There's definitely a chance that the tech could get more sophisticated and more accessible, especially if the government continues to allow 3D printed gun plans to be available to anyone online.
Some states are already trying to get ahead of the problem — for instance, Defense Distributed agreed to block Pennsylvania users from its site after an emergency hearing Sunday night in a federal court in the state, according to CBS News. Attorney Gen. Josh Shapiro said in part, according to CBS Philadelphia:
Once these untraceable guns are on our streets and in our schools, we can never get them back. The decision tonight to block Pennsylvania users from downloading these 3D gun files is a victory for public safety and common sense.
The legal battle regarding 3D guns is not likely to end anytime soon. More than 1,000 people had already downloaded plans to make AR-style, 3D printed guns by Monday morning even though they weren't supposed to be available until Wednesday, according to The New York Post.
Even if Defense Distributed is blocked from sharing these blueprints in the future, some 3D printed gun plans are already out there, and both government officials and gun violence prevention activists will have to decide how to move forward as this technology evolves.