3D Printing Plans for Guns Back Online

The American media recently reported something that continues to be a major problem: 3D printing firearms or, more specifically, what to do about the fact that anyone can now purchase a 3D printer and start producing almost anything, including guns. Though it has huge potential, this relatively new technology causes a big headache for the U.S. and no doubt numerous other jurisdictions, Canada included.

The problem is what they call ghost guns (i.e., unregistered guns without so much as a serial number) and it stems from the combination of 3D printing and the online availability of plans to print gun parts. Although 3D printers are now relatively commonplace and cheap, the plans to replicate actual gun parts are another matter.

In 2015, an American court allowed the addition of 3D printing plans (for gun parts) to the “State Department’s Munitions List,” a list of things that can only be exported (or put online) with the U.S. government’s authorization. For a short while, publishing such plans online was illegal under American law. However, the ban was relatively short-lived, as litigation by one manufacturer lead the Trump administration to repeal its ban and (again) allow the online publication of such plans.

Since then, several American states have sued the federal government in an effort to get 3D printing parts blacklisted again, and get them yanked from the Web. This has led to a recent California appeals decision which concluded that the federal government had indeed the right to withdraw such plans from the Munitions List and, thus, that there is no reason for anyone at this point in time prohibiting anyone from publishing 3D printing plans for gun parts.

As one might guess, this ruling has a lot of people worried in the U.S., a jurisdiction already awash in firearms and now facing a new source of guns, this time by individuals creating firearms from the Internet, so to speak. In 2019, one third of all guns seized in the state of California were ghost guns—the problem is very real and far from being merely theoretical. Heck, we’re even starting to see this creeping-up in Canada, as demonstrated by this Alberta news story from last September.

Faced with the resurgence of this problem, many are already calling for the U.S. to legislate specifically to address the problem, and prohibit the online publishing or sharing of ghost-gun plans.

No doubt about it: 3D printing will continue to challenge how society deals with many issues, as more and more types of items become “printable,” including guns, armour and even houses. Hey, you can’t halt progress.