There is no shortage of ways — legal and illegal — to obtain a firearm, and there may soon be another.
A federal judge last week blocked a Texas gun-rights organization from publishing online the schematic designs for printable 3D guns. Those designs would have allowed people to download 3D plans for firearms ranging from a handgun to the AR-15 rifle used in several mass shootings, including the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 that left 17 students and adult staff members dead.
And if you think 3D guns are space-age stuff, think again.
Experts say that advancements in technology have made it possible to print a firearm that is every bit as operational — and lethal — as anything you can buy at a gun shop.
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It doesn’t take an advanced degree to print a gun, either.
A brainy 8-year-old kid equipped with a 3D printer, the required manufacturing material and a downloadable design can hit the print button “and if they do it before they go to bed at night, they can have a nice little gun in the morning,” according to Alex Lorenzo, president of Da Vinci’s 3D Lounge in Lake Park.
That’s an idea that gives U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, chills. Deutch has introduced legislation that would ban 3D guns, also known as “ghost guns” because they are untraceable, unregistered and, most worrisome, undetectable.
ABS plastic — the same stuff used to make Lego bricks — is the primary material employed to create 3D firearms. A 3D gun is printed in parts, then assembled, sometimes as simply as snapping the pieces together.
Federal law allows anyone to manufacture their own gun, but the Undetectable Firearms Act makes it a federal crime either to build or possess a firearm that can bypass security checkpoints. In order to be produced legally, 3D plastic guns would need to include the 3.7 ounces of steel mandated by the federal government to be detectable.
But those in the 3D business say plastic guns can be made to function with lethal efficiency without any metal parts.
A nightmare scenario where a 3D-gun-packing person gets through a metal detector at an airport, government building or school is hardly far-fetched, Deutch said.
Those who fail background checks, such as felons and domestic abusers, could also be attracted to the weapons.
“When you focus attention on hardening schools and you require metal detectors and then sit by as we make the proliferation of guns that can get through those metal detectors, we’re effectively eliminating any progress that’s been made on the security front,” Deutch said.
“It puts everyone at risk, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.”
With one printer, a terrorist or criminal organization could amass weapons from the comfort of their home, Lorenzo said.
“Over the weekend, you could have an arsenal, absolutely,” he said.
The first 3D guns built were often defective and unreliable, sometimes exploding after being discharged and unable to fire multiple shots.
“We’re well past that now,” Lorenzo said. “It’s not like, these guns will never be good enough. They’re already good enough, and they’re going to get better.”
Lorenzo said a 3D printer at his shop, at a cost of around $1,500, can manufacture a quality firearm, but adds that a far cheaper machine could work too.
Once the initial investment in a printer is made, the “additive materials” used to make a 3D gun can be a matter of cents.
“An 8-year-old with a file and 3D printer knows everything he needs to know to create a gun,” Lorenzo said. “There’s very little to no craftsmanship needed.”
A temporary injunction imposed by a federal judge last week may be all that keeps that 8-year-old from getting hands on printable gun designs that Defense Distributed, a Texas gun-rights group, wants to publish on its website.
The U.S. State Department in 2013 forbade Defense Distributed owner and CEO Cody Wilson to post those plans online.
Wilson sued on the grounds that his First Amendment rights were being violated, and the Trump administration reached an agreement in June allowing him to publish.
“The age of the downloadable gun is here,” Defense Distributed’s website crowed after the agreement was announced.
But an injunction to block the settlement was filed by the attorney generals for eight states and granted July 31.
“If the Trump administration won’t keep us safe, we will,” said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Wilson, a self-described “crypto-anarchist” ranked by Wired magazine as one of the 15 Most Dangerous People on the internet in 2015, told the New York Times he developed the idea for a printable gun partly by studying the Allies’ effort to liberate Europe during World War II.
Wilson said the Allies at one time contemplated dropping weapons by air to resistance fighters behind enemy lines.
“Instead of dropping the gun on Europe, we dropped it on the internet.”
Linda Teplin, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University who studies gun violence, said those who want guns can access them through “normal channels” and cautions about a world filled with printable weapons.
“We can not reduce the epidemic of firearm violence if we increase the availability of guns,” Teplin said. “Who will take advantage of 3D-printed guns? Perpetrators of mayhem.”