Imagine a gun you could build in the privacy of your home in much the same way that you assembled model cars and planes as a youth.
A few clicks of a mouse and — voila! — you’re in business.
We have the know-how. We have the technology. And we should have the common sense not to use it.
That’s why a number of states have joined a lawsuit against the State Department to block a company that wants to publish blueprints for the plastic guns, also called “ghost guns,” for free on the internet.
Last week, a federal judge in Seattle issued a restraining order blocking the posting of the plans until a Friday court hearing. Eight state attorneys general filed the suit, and another 11, including North Carolina’s Josh Stein, had joined as plaintiffs.They are suing the State Department because it settled a previous lawsuit with a company called Defense Distributed to allow mass publication of the plans. The company’s founder, Cody Wilson, sued in 2015 on the grounds that banning the plans violated his First and Second Amendment rights.
But sanity may yet prevail. In addition to the plaintiffs, 21 states signed a letter to the State and Justice departments that called for the plans to be stopped.
They are right to be concerned. Such a move would make the weapons available to anyone, no questions asked. No license. No background checks. No required training. No nothing. Anyone with a computer and a 3D printer theoretically could have a gun — to add to the 300 million already in circulation. He or she could be a domestic abuser or mentally ill. Or worse.
“As a result of the Department of State’s settlement with Defense Distributed,” the letter from the states reads in part, “terrorists, criminals, and individuals seeking to do harm would have unfettered access to print and manufacture dangerous firearms. ... Illegal trafficking of these guns across state and national borders could also increase, and self-made, unregistered, and untraceable firearms could easily wind up in the hands of (or simply be produced directly by) dangerous individuals.”
The guns also would be difficult for law enforcement to track when they are used to commit crimes. They would have no serial numbers. And they could easily be destroyed after being used to eliminate the evidence. The guns primarily consist of plastic parts. However, they still contain a metal firing pin and a piece of steel whose only purpose is to make the guns readable by metal directors, and, thus, legal. The U.S. Undetectable Firearms Act requires at least a 3.7-ounce piece of metal in the guns. (For the record, the NRA supports that law but has not stated opposition to 3D printing of guns in general.)
Even so, someone who plans to break the law anyway is not compelled to install the metal part — or could remove it. And no matter what measures authorities take, some bad actors will be able to circumvent the law. This technology is not going away. But that’s the case as well with obtaining illegal firearms the old-fashioned way. No need to make it easier. At least some efforts to slow the process can allow time for a rational conversation and about how to cope, legally and technologically, with the new and potentially pervasive changes in the way firearms are obtained and used. As if enough of us aren’t packing heat as it is.