Philadelphia became the first city to pass a bill banning people without a federal firearms manufacturing license from using 3D printers to make guns earlier this week, in a move that lawmakers described as “preemptive” and “based upon internet stuff out there.” But the measure passed unanimously by 10-member council and comes as a federal law banning firearms that can go unnoticed by a metal detector is set to expire early next month.
Lawmakers are desperately trying to keep pace with the evolving technology. While 3-D printed gun are still “affordable only in industrial or commercial settings” — printers currently range between $1,500 and $8,000 plus the cost of printing materials — experts say the “technology will eventually trickle down to consumers, who are already able to purchase plastic printers at affordable prices.” 3D printers can also manufacture bullets and metal guns.
“As technology progresses, three-dimensional printers will become more advanced, less expensive and more commonplace,” Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said after the vote. “As instructions for the manufacture of guns via 3D printing technology are already available on the Internet, we could be looking at a recipe for disaster.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, Sen. Bill Nelson , and Rep. Steve Israel have introduced legislation that expands the undetectable firearms law to ban 3D-printed guns, require guns to be recognizable as guns, and them to contain significant metal. Several states — including New York, California and Washington D.C. — are considering similar restrictions.
Earlier this month, officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) built and tested a 3D gun called the Liberator. The weapon, which is invisible to metal detectors, is capable of “firing with enough power to injure vital organs” and its designs “were downloaded more than 100,000 times in just two days before federal officials demanded their removal in May.” ATF officials said they were concerned individuals could carry the weapons past metal detectors into “schools, sporting events or government offices” (the Liberator’s design calls for a metal piece, though that part is non-vital and can easily be taken out.) 3D guns can also be made “without serial numbers or unique identifiers, hindering.”
“Proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production,” a Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin admitted in May. “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.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA), which is heavily funded by large gun manufacturers, has remained largely silent on the issue.