On December 9th, the Undetectable Firearms Act was extended before its built-in expiration was to take place. The law, which we’ve written about once or twice on 3DPI, was established in the 1980s as a means of preventing plastic weapons from passing through metal detectors and used in important and/or crowded places. With the law’s potential expiration coinciding with the publication of Defense Distributed’s 3D printed Liberator pistol, 3D printing and the Undetectable Firearms Act became forever linked in people’s minds. Over at Public Knowledge, Michael Weinberg has a fairly objective outline of what these two things have to do with one another, what they don’t have to do with one another and how the Undetectable Firearms Act turned out in the end.
When Representative Steve Israel first produced a bill extending the original law, he had major concerns about the 3D printing of guns and, so, as Public Knowledge explains, included many measures to regulate the ability to 3D print firearms. Apparently, PK spoke up, noting that making guns in one’s own home has been around for awhile — including a site called CNCguns, which is what you think it is — and that undetectable weapons don’t have to be produced via 3D printing. Weinberg explains his point of view eloquently in this last post:
Our primary request was that Rep. Israel focus the bill on the undetectability of firearms. Press coverage aside, the method of manufacture of an undetectable firearm should not particularly matter for undetectable firearm regulation. If a gun gets smuggled through airport security, it does not really matter how it was made. What matters is that it was undetectable, not that it was manufactured on a 3D printer, or a CNC machine or with an injection molder. Public Knowledge takes no position on firearms regulation, so our only request is that any potential firearms regulation not unnecessarily undermine 3D printing.
Israel, in response, downplayed the 3D printing aspect of his plans and “focused primarily on including a requirement that any firearm feature at least one functional metal part”. Finally, instead of voting on Israel’s bill, which still made some reference to the technology, the House of Representatives voted to extend the original Undetectable Firearms Act, which doesn’t mention 3D printing at all. This was also passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama on December 9th.
This is a good sign for those worried about the regulation of 3D printing, but Weinberg proceeds cautiously, warning that this hasn’t prevented the possibility of future 3D printing legislation. He concludes by using the entire story to symbolize the disconnection of consumers from the means of production, saying:
Perhaps more importantly, this entire episode highlights just how disconnected we as a society are from manufacturing and making things. 3D printing is an exciting technology that empowers people to make all sorts of things (not necessarily the “everything” that some lawmakers imagine, but plenty of things nonetheless). But it is not the only way that people can make things. Although it can often feel this way, not every object or device comes fully formed from a factory. People have had tools to make things on their own since the dawn of mankind, and many still have those tools at home today.
While it’s true that there is a disconnect, in the developed world, between consumers and the way the sausage gets made, Weinberg misses a more relevant conclusion, perhaps because Public Knowledge does not want to make a stand on firearm regulation in the first place.
I am completely for the ban of undetectable firearms, but I am also for much greater gun control in the United States. I worry that, by signing such a bill, Congress and the White House can claim that they’ve done something about gun control, without actually doing anything, despite public demand for universal background checks and a study put out by the American Journal of Medicine that provides evidence suggesting that high gun ownership is linked to increased gun-related deaths. But, then again, I guess that that’s just my own gripe and not an objective opinion that would result in greater public safety for all.
Source: Public Knowledge