In the quest to combat gun violence, lawmakers have turned their attention to 3D printers, proposing measures to regulate their sales. The concern revolves around the potential to create “ghost guns” – firearms without serial numbers – using these machines. While both 3D printing enthusiasts and gun rights advocates are worried about the impact of these laws, there’s a growing debate about whether they will genuinely enhance public safety.
Firing Back at Ghost Guns
The New York State Assembly has introduced a bill targeting the spread of ghost guns. It mandates criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a 3D printer capable of producing firearms or related components. Critics argue that this move might discourage budding creators and makers, from students learning through 3D printing to hobbyists repairing appliances or building robots.
A Closer Look at the Proposed Legislation
The bill in New York specifically targets 3D printers capable of producing firearm components like receivers and “auto sears” that can convert semi-automatic guns into fully automatic ones. State senator Jenifer Rajkumar, the bill’s sponsor, highlights a worrying trend: the confiscation of 637 3D-printed guns in 2022, a staggering increase from 100 in 2019, emphasizing the urgency of addressing this issue.
Ghost Guns: A Growing Concern
New York City has witnessed a 60% increase in confiscated ghost guns over two consecutive years. The NYPD’s discovery of a “ghost gun printing operation” in a daycare center underscores the gravity of the situation. Beyond New York, several states, including Hawaii, Delaware, and New Jersey, have implemented laws against 3D-printed firearms, though comprehensive federal regulations are still absent.
California’s Stand on 3D Printers
California has recently passed AB 1089, targeting ghost guns. This legislation prohibits the sale, purchase, or possession of 3D printers primarily designed for firearms manufacturing. However, the question remains: how will this law be enforced given that virtually any 3D printer can be used to create gun parts?
Biden Administration’s Push for ATF Rule Changes
The Biden administration advocates for a recent ATF rule change that would expand the definition of a firearm to include its parts. This means that gun sellers and 3D printing enthusiasts would be required to include serial numbers on firearms and their components, enhancing traceability.
The Challenge of Tracking Ghost Guns
Tracking ghost guns is inherently challenging due to their homemade nature. From 2016 to 2021, there was a staggering 1,000.3% surge in reported ghost guns. This trend has been identified by Everytown for Gun Safety as the fastest-growing gun safety concern in the nation, further emphasizing the need for effective regulations.
Pushback Against Printer Laws
Critics argue that laws like those proposed in New York and California could inadvertently hinder educational pursuits, particularly in STEM fields, where 3D printers are invaluable learning tools. Distinguishing between parts for ghost guns and those for benign purposes presents a significant challenge, potentially affecting hobbyists and creators.
A futile effort to regulate 3D printers?
Regulating 3D printers might prove to be an uphill battle. Industry experts like Grant Schmidt contend that these machines are poised to become as commonplace as regular printers. He argues that ghost guns are a resurgence of traditional local craftsmanship, harking back to the days of building firearms from readily available hardware.
The First Amendment Debate
Civil liberties experts caution against broad regulations targeting 3D-printed firearms and their design instructions, citing potential First Amendment implications. They argue for a balanced approach that safeguards against dangerous information while respecting free speech rights.
The controversy surrounding 3D printers and ghost guns has brought to light the complexities of balancing safety and innovation. Legislation in states like New York and California seeks to address the proliferation of homemade firearms, yet there are concerns that these regulations may inadvertently impact those who use 3D printers for entirely innocent purposes. Finding a solution that addresses the issue of ghost guns without stifling the potential of 3D printing as a tool for education and creativity is a challenge that lawmakers must carefully consider as they move forward in their quest to reduce gun violence.
The debate over 3D printers and ghost guns is a complex one, involving multiple stakeholders with valid concerns. While the proposed legislation aims to enhance public safety, it also raises questions about the potential impact on education, innovation, and civil liberties. Striking a balance between these interests will be crucial in crafting effective and fair regulations for this evolving technology.