3D printing is seeing the sun set on the Wild West phase of technical freedom with the recent arrest of Sicen Sun, an Australian who was arrested for 3D printed guns .
Sicen Sun was arrested after he tried to sell a 3D printed prop gun for $1 million AUS through a Facebook post. He was arrested with four imitation pistols, including a 3D-manufactured small Glock, a 3D-manufactured Glock, a 3D-manufactured Sig 250; two air pistols, computer equipment, and two 3D printers.
It appears that one of the 3D printed guns had the trigger mechanism to shoot airsoft pellets.
Australias Gun Control Restrictions
Australia is known for its tight gun control restrictions, and 3D printed guns have shown up in the past in Australian police blotters.
It is important to note that in Australian law, they make no distinction between a live firearm and a replica or prop gun.
Sicen Sun’s arrest is one of a handful in the whole world for possession and 3D printing of a firearm. It appears that he 3D printed the guns as cosplay props, and there are no indications that he had any hostile intent for the prop guns.
The merits of the Australian law regarding live guns vs replicas is subject to much debate outside of the scope of this article. If 3D gun possession alone was the only charge leveled by the NSW police, there would not be any implications to 3D printers.
However Australia took a dangerous step in charging Sicen Sun with “possess digital blueprint for manufacture of firearms”.
Dangerous legal precedent..
If the charges stick in court, Sicen Sun will set the dangerous legal precedent that digital files for 3D printing can be considered illegal.
Even in the narrowest view of 3D printed guns, this precedent is scary in its legal implications. It has many legal ramifications that must be answered before any law can be applied to Sicen Sun’s case.
Defining illegal 3DPrinted guns
One question is what defines an illegal digital file? The digital nature of 3D printing and CAD means that one original gun file for a working firearm can be modified into a non-firing prop gun, or vice versa. Is a digital file illegal because it has the potential to be a live gun, or is it illegal just because it appears to be a gun? Is a specific file name illegal and all subsequent versions and mods exempt? Or are all variants of that original file fruit of the poisoned tree? Australia will have to define what an illegal file is, and if they even have the authority to regulate digital files in the first place.
Cosplayers guilty of possession?
A second question is about accountability. If someone posts a 3D file for a non-firing replica Glock pistol for use by cosplayers, is the poster as guilty of possession as the person who 3D prints it? Given how easy it is to share digital files that means that the original file poster can be guilty of distributing a digital file to thousands or millions of people. Do we treat the CAD designer as a distributor like a drug manufacturer?
A third question is in criminal reporting. Sicen Sun made the very public blunder of advertising his prop guns for sale on Facebook, and further blundered when he thought he could charge $1 million AUS for a prop gun. While that alone may fall under “World’s Dumbest Criminals” it brings up a question of finding and discovering this crime. Someone reported the 3D printed guns to the New South Whales State Crime Command’s Firearms Squad, which then executed a warrant. Someone in the community may have acted in good faith, but they none the less treated the replicas as real firearms. Someone saw 3D printed prop guns as a threat.
It is chilling to see that an uninformed public that is ignorant about 3D printing is being encouraged by the law to report on digital crimes which may have no merit at all.
For every Sicen Sun, there are thousands of 3D printers that print prop guns without issue.
A fourth concern is privacy. How will the state know what files a 3D printer possesses without a warrant? How will the state know someone has an illegal print without examining every cosplayers pictures, facebook post, and blog? The NSW Police acted on a tip and a public facebook post, but what about other people who do not try to oversell their prop guns? If the Australian Police want to crack down on illegal files, they will have to launch a massive digital sweep and invade the privacy of 3D printers in their country.
The arrest of Sincen Sun
The arrest represents a dangerous threat to digital freedom around the world. 3D printing has flourished under open source and freely sharing digital files and ideas. When the State steps in and starts censoring digital designs, 3D printing as a whole suffers. It is worrisome to think that the State thinks they can censor files that are shared globally, and that they can censor anyone that 3D prints a digital file. The case of Sincen Sun reaches far beyond the scope of a local gun possession charge. It can impact 3D printing around the world if the State can dictate what an illegal file is.
The original police report can be found at (http://www.police.nsw.gov.au/news/media_release_archive?sq_content_src=%2BdXJsPWh0dHBzJTNBJTJGJTJGZWJpenByZC5wb2xpY2UubnN3Lmdvdi5hdSUyRm1lZGlhJTJGNjE0MDkuaHRtbCZhbGw9MQ%3D%3D).