Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
December 6, 2013
Last December, Congressman Steve Israel urged his colleagues to renew a federal ban on plastic guns that can evade detection at airports, public buildings and schools. He alluded to futuristic weapons made partially with three-dimensional printers.
“It is just a matter of time before these three-dimensional printers will be able to replicate an entire gun,” Israel said during a news conference last year at Long Island MacArthur Airport.
The future is now, and the Senate, a year later, has not renewed the Undetectable Firearms Act and the House has refused to update the law.
If the act is not renewed and updated before it expires next week, firearms manufactured in basements and backrooms can slip past metal detectors and X-ray machines.
The Undetectable Firearms Act bans guns that can pass unnoticed through detection devices, and has been renewed twice in the 25 years since it was first enacted. However, when the law was enacted and renewed, most recently in 2003, no one anticipated 3-D guns.
Cody Wilson a 25-year-old second-year law student at the University of Texas published the 3-D gun-making blueprints. His website Defense Distributed was shut down by The State Department over concerns about exporting of firearms. However, in the short time the website was up more than 100,000 copies of the blueprint were downloaded.
According to the College Station Eagle, most high-end industrial 3-D printers fabricate an object using a technique called laser sintering. These printers can create any item, such as a gun, by creating a 3-D rendering in a computer and digitally slicing it into 2-D layers. The rendering is then transferred to the printer, which uses materials, mostly plastics, and a binding agent to build the gun layer-by-layer. Essentially, the printer binds the 2-D layers on top of each other to form a 3-D object.
Nick Bilton explained in the New York Times that 3-D printers are quickly becoming a consumer product.
“These printers, which now cost about $1,000 … long used by industrial companies to make prototypes and parts, 3-D printers are becoming faster and less expensive almost weekly,” he said.
Recently, the ATF tested two versions of the printed 3-D gun. One printed with material known as Visijet, and another in stronger plastic known as ABS. An ATF spokesman told Forbes that the ABS gun shot eight rounds without problems in its tests. The Visijet gun immediately exploded on firing.
As the renewal of the Undetectable Firearms Act becomes contentious in Congress, Philadelphia’s City Council voted unanimously last month to prohibit the use of 3-D printers to create any firearm or “any piece thereof” unless that person possesses a license to manufacture firearms.
The extension of the Undetectable Firearms Act has been delayed as lawmakers fight over whether to simply extend the act or amend it to include new provisions aimed specifically at 3-D weapons.
The law expires on Dec. 9, reauthorizing it has been caught up in a political standoff that has thwarted other recent attempts to enact gun legislation. This week, the House renewed the act without addressing 3-D guns.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer intends to offer an amendment in the Senate that prohibits the manufacturing of 3-D guns without a permanent piece of metal imbedded in the gun to trigger metal detectors and other detection devices.
According to the New York Times, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said he was concerned not about extending the law as written but about senators like Schumer who support gun-safety measures using the law as a backdoor way of attaching additional provisions.
“They’re considering altering it, putting more language in it,” Sessions said. “There’s concern that it may be altered in a way that would be problematic.”
Political posturing aside — lawmakers, prosecutors and police chiefs know what is at stake. If stopping the proliferation of firearms that are not detectable at airports, public buildings and schools is "problematic” we need to rethink our public safety priorities.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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