According to its website, Solid Concepts, a 3D printing company, has produced a functional metal 1911 from its printer. Solid Concepts’ news release claims that it has fired 50 rounds and has hit targets at over 30 yards. Considering the reaction to plastic handguns created by the 3D printing process, this is sure to cause some head-spinning in the anti-gun crowd.
The argument, at this point, has been limited to the undetectability of a (majority) plastic firearm. The reauthorization bills for the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 ( H.R. 1474 and S. 1149) have the usual suspects as sponsors and specifically add prohibitions on the private production of a firearm that is undetectable. Based on the Congressional findings outlined in the proposed legislation, this is clearly intended to prohibit the individual production of a plastic firearm via 3D printer. While the private manufacture of a firearm (for private use) is not prohibited under 18 U.S.C. 922, the manufacture and possession of an undetectable firearm is under 922(p).
The production of a metal gun via 3D printer presents anti-gun legislators with a bigger problem, however. Since the private manufacture of guns is not illegal, and the metal firearm would not fall under the definition of “undetectable” since it would trigger traditional detection devices (pun intended, I suppose), a new piece of legislation would have to be drafted. Confident in the ability of congressional legislation drafters to completely miss the point, I think a proposed ban on 3D firearms printing is likely.
The argument will be that private manufacture of a firearm is now available to everyone. Far from being a veritable Gutenberg, the 3D printing press will not (immediately) be available to the masses. Blueprints are required to print an object, as well as significant capital. The printers required for the production of the firearm cost about $1 million and estimates of the potential retail price hover in the tens of thousands of dollars. Alas, for the throngs of criminals and terrorists we know to be waiting in the wings for the opportunity to quickly and cheaply produce illegal weapons for their nefarious schemes, 3D printing does not appear to be a viable option. And, even if the technology were cheaper (which it surely will be at some point), possessing a firearm while prohibited is still illegal, whether privately manufactured or not. So any future prohibition on the production of a firearm via 3D printer will still hinge on the idea that a criminal won’t break this law.
I have no doubt that legislation is coming. I also have no doubt that the proposed legislation will be utterly ineffective at achieving its stated goal and overly effective at limiting the ability of law-abiding citizens to exercise their rights. But for now, let’s take the time to celebrate a really cool advancement in firearms technology!