Innovation or Illegal…Who Should be Allowed to Print Guns?

Back in September, you might recall my article “Up In Arms About Printing Arms,” where Defense Distributed was being challenged for their innovative use of 3D printing technology. The most recent conundrum questions whether it is innovation or whether is it illegal to print a firearm from plastic? In Wired’s recent article, Cody Wilson, owner of Defense Distributing, discussed how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) thinks printing firearms falls into a gray area of the law. While ATF might not think Wilson has broken any laws, they insist Wilson needs to have an FFL (Federal Firearms License) for manufacturing firearms, if Wilson proceeds in printing with plastic guns and gun parts, which is contrary to the ATF’s previous determination that one does not need to hold an FFL to manufacture a firearm, if there is no intent to sell that firearm.

If the ATF would have said Defense Distributed had violated the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, I might have agreed with the ATF that such manufacture, of a completely plastic firearm, would be illegal without proper approval or licensing. Nevertheless, to the disappointment of Defense Distributed, the ATF and Stratasys were both on the same page. Stratasys, the owner of the printer Wilson leased and intended to use to create the first 100 % (one-hundred percent) all printed plastic gun, caught wind of how the printer was to be used and canceled Wilson’s lease for lack of an FFL for manufacturing. Stratasys is not stranger to gun printing. They lease larger industrial 3 D printers to other firearms manufacturers for the purpose of selling guns, which by most appearances reflects a pro-gun company. However, it would be interesting to review the lease and determine the basis for the cancellation, especially if no provision existed for the cancellation of the contract, which would result in Stratsys’ breach of contract.

I don’t want to read too much into this but could Stratasys’ decision have been based on pressure from there other firearms manufacturing clients? DIY printing has some manufacturers concerned about how quick the 3 D technology and DIY users are exponentially increasing. The lease with Stratasys did not disclose why the printer was being used, so did they have to use due diligence as the reason to remove the printer from Wilson’s home?

I was recently at NY Maker Faire and you could not walk 25 feet without stumbling into a 3 D printer.

I saw some toy guns, and I did see an AR-15 lower receiver at one booth. Nothing was for sale, just examples of the possibilities that come with having your own mini-manufacturing machine. The event was attended by thousands and not once did I hear anyone speak of printing guns, which is the most prominent conversation in 3 D printing on the internet. This conversation has fallen on deaf ears for most in the 3 D printing industry, except those that have a stake in the results.

There are going to be products along the way that trigger debates over who has the right to print a gun or a trinket. Who owns the rights? Is it open source or patented? How can this be legal? There are a lot of unanswered questions. Lets compare Areion, a car designed by 16 engineering students. The first almost one hundred percent printed car for the formula student challenge in Germany. Granted the technology that helped create the Areion is on an industrial printer but it is 3 D printed all the same.

What happens when someone builds a DIY printer in their home and starts building parts to make their own car? Cars are dangerous, cars can kill, cars sales are regulated; thus, printing cars has to be illegal! Yet, like firearms, people build, rebuild, and invent ways to improve old cars, new cars, and car parts.

I am glad Defense Distributing is going to apply for an FFL and are keeping their eye on the prize. When they succeed, they will have jumped through hoops, complied with the (invented) regulations, followed the (invented) letter of the law and paved the road for others to legally print guns. Gun enthusiasts and DIY Geeks might not agree that printing guns is awesome. However, both share the enthusiasm that printing what ever you can imagine is awesome. Very awesome.

Written by Amy Buser. Reviewed and approved by Joshua Prince, Esq.

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Filed under ATF, Firearms Law

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