Friday may well go down as a turning point in the debate around 3D printed guns, and 3D printing policy in general. Two important sides seemed to step away from confrontation and instead focus on what is important to them. Defense Distributed included metal parts in their otherwise fully 3D printed handgun. And Rep. Steve Israel used Defense Distributed’s announcement to raise concerns about undetectable firearms, not 3D printing. Both should be praised for these decisions.
Bur first, some background
Conversations about firearms have been bubbling around the edges of 3D printing for some time now. Things really started heating up when an organization called Defense Distributedannounced its intention to help design a fully 3D printed firearm. This raised some policy concerns (some novel, some not) about home manufacture of firearms.
Perhaps the highest profile critic of Defense Distributed was Rep. Steve Israel. Although his primary concern was with undetectable firearms, much of his framing seemed to single out one way to make undetectable firearms – 3D printing. This 3D printing focus came to a head when Rep. Israel sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter to other Members of Congress raising fears about 3D printed firearms.
What Defense Distributed did
On Friday, Forbes reported that Defense Distributed released photos of what it claims to be a fully 3D printed handgun. But the handgun had an important feature – it included six ounces of steel, thus making it a detectable firearm.
This was a savvy decision on Defense Distributed’s part. The organization has a substantial list of intriguing goals but making a gun that can be smuggled into an airport does not seem to be one of them. By including metal in the design, Defense Distributed stepped away from what may have been a distracting side conversation. This should allow it to focus on the things it really cares about without unnecessarily reaching into other policy areas.
What Rep. Israel did
We were quite critical of Rep. Israel’s previous Dear Colleague letter. As we wrote then, the letter seemed to muddle his concerns and be overly-focused on one way to make undetectable firearms, not on undetectable firearms themselves. Friday’s announcement could have been an opportunity to return to that argument.
But instead, to his credit, Rep. Israel focused on the real concerns that Friday’s announcement raised for him. In a new Dear Colleague letter, Rep. Israel points to Defense Distributed’s design as a high profile reminder that undetectable firearms are a real possibility. Rep. Israel’s letter focuses on his real concern – undetectable firearms – without singling out one way to manufacture them.
None of this will be the last word
While these are both encouraging steps, they certainly do not represent the end of the line. Including metal in a gun design does not mean that it cannot be modified to be undetectable. And removing 3D printing references from a Dear Colleague letter does not mean that no Member of Congress will ever unnecessarily vilify 3D printing.
But both sides appear to have shifted their focus back to what they really care about. This type of evolution is positive for policy conversations surrounding 3D printing. Hopefully they are signs of positive things to come. And you can rest assured that we here at Public Knowledge are working to make sure that this momentum keeps moving in the right direction.
Co-Sponsor Legislation to Continue the Ban on Plastic Guns
From: The Honorable Steve Israel
Bill: H.R. 1474
As you might have seen today, Defense Distributed unveiled a technologic feat that many said was years from development: a gun made almost completely of plastic. Just as the true threat of plastic guns is becoming more and more apparent, the law that keeps these firearms off of our streets is set to lapse. Now that the technology has advanced to a point where these guns are real and will soon be able to reliably fire bullets, Congress must act. Below please find an article from Forbes outlining today’s news.
I urge you to co-sponsor legislation I introduced to give law enforcement the tools they need to protect American families from plastic firearms and gun components that can slip past security checkpoints. My legislation would extend and update the ban on guns and gun parts that cannot be detected by metal detectors or x-ray machines, entitled the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act.
The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act would update current law and extend key provisions to include both lower receivers and magazines printed in plastic by individuals. The legislation specifically targets individuals who produce plastic gun components and magazines, while exempting legitimate manufacturers. Extending this ban is necessary to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep plastic guns that can slip through security lines off of our streets.
To sign on as a cosponsor, please contact ******* in my office at *-**** / *********.
Member of Congress