3D plastic guns threaten public safety as undetectable firearm ban nears expiration

November 21, 2013

America’s ban on undetectable firearms is expiring in just a few weeks, raising concerns for federal law enforcement authorities about the future of 3D printed plastic guns.

DIY Plastic guns mean untraceable weapons

Cody Wilson, who created the world’s first 3D printed plastic gun, The Liberator, has posted online instructions for making the handgun almost entirely out of plastic. In the documentary, “Click, Print, Gun: The Inside Story of the 3D-Printed Gun Movement,” he remarks that it’s not illegal to making your own gun at home as long as you have a federal license to sell guns to others. Cody’s website was shut down in May but the blueprint had been downloaded more than 100,000 times already.

The Liberator, 3D printed plastic gun

The Liberator, the world’s first working 3D printed plastic gun built by Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed. From engadget.com.

3D printers that are used to create plastic models and prototypes at the industrial level can also be used to manufacture workable plastic guns. These weapons are  made purely of plastic and thus can’t be picked by any metal detector.

For agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF), that is worrisome in more than one way. ATF assistant director Richard Marianos states, “The plastic weapons can defeat normal detection such as metal detectors, wands, and it could present a problem to public safety in a venue such as an airport, an arena, a courthouse.”

Such guns present considerable risk, not only to the public but also to the people firing them. Marianos remarks that low-grade polymers could blow up in the hands of an individual. The harder polymers or more aggressive compounds could fire multiple rounds, posing additional dangers to the public. When fired

(Read ATF’s findings on 3D printed plastic guns here.)

Assassins with a motive—not ordinary criminals—could use plastic guns

Officials don’t think that ordinary criminals will use plastic guns since the machines used to manufacture them cost thousands of dollars and the quality varies. Moreover, creating a gun takes approximately 18 hours. However, assassins with a specific motive could spend both the time and money. “This is more for someone who wants to get into an area and perhaps be an assassin,” Marianos tells the Wall Street Journal. “Or they want to go to a courthouse and shoot a witness,” he continues.

ATF agents cleared that there are no known instance of gang members or ordinary felons using plastic guns. In addition, there are no criminal investigations pending over illegal possession or use of these guns.

Undetectable Firearms Act needs reauthorization…and some updates

The Undetectable Firearms Act, which was passed in 1988 and renewed in 1998 and 2003, prohibits the manufacture, import, sale, possession, and transfer of a firearm that has less than 3.7 ounces of metal in it. As such, all gun manufacturers producing firearms with plastic must include enough metal to be detected by a metal detector.

Although effective to some extent, the law that expires on December 9 is not without shortcomings. Fox News reports, “A loophole in the existing law allows someone to make an illegal gun legal by simply attaching a removable metal piece to the weapon. That piece could be removed if someone wanted to sneak the weapon into a protected location.”

It seems lawmakers are not wasting any time to renew and update the existing ban. U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) have proposed a bill that bans the design, manufacture, sale, import, export, and possession of 3-D plastic guns. “Extending this ban will give law enforcement the tools that they need to keep undetectable firearms and magazines from slipping past security checkpoints and off of our streets,” said the senators in a letter, seeking co-sponsors.

Additionally, U.S Representative Steve Israel (D-Huntington, NY) is proposing a wider and a more stringent ban that would make it illegal to own, transport, buy, or sell any homemade firearm or magazine that is undetectable by metal detectors. Any such firearm that does not present a clear image when scanned through an x-ray machine would also be considered illegal.

If reauthorized, the bill would remain valid for 10 years from the date of enactment.

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Category: Guns, Trespassing