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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Congress Passes Undetectable Firearms Act, Sidesteps 3D-Printed Guns

Posted By on Tue, Dec 3, 2013 at 4:41 PM

Cody Wilson - FROM TWITTER
  • from Twitter
  • Cody Wilson

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend a 1988 ban on plastic guns that can't be tracked by a metal detector, but it left open a more contentious debate about 3D-printed guns, the new, home-produced polymer weapons that can fire 14 rounds of .380 caliber ammo.

These guns have become the new bogeymen in the firearm debate, standing in for desk-top technology that, if left unregulated, could turn us all into plastic-wielding militiamen. At least, that's the fear of New York Democratic Representative Steve Israel, who drafted his own version of the Undetectable Firearms Act with language specifically targeting 3D printers.

It's also the goal of high-tech gunsmith Cody Wilson, who published the blueprint for his printed gun, The Liberator, and made it universally available on the Internet. A staunch anarcho-libertarian, Wilson dreams of a world in which anyone can build his own gun.

In May, Texas authorities shut down the publishing arm of Wilson's non-profit organization, Defense Distributed. He calls the latest spate of legislation "an outside, round-about attempt to control the way people make guns."

In Wilson's view, guns themselves aren't engendering paranoia in Congress. What legislators fear is technology and its way of empowering individual citizens. He sees home-produced, plastic firearms as the purest fulfillment of the Second Amendment.

"It's always been a bad law," Wilson says, "and now they're using its carcass to pack in new regulations. It's really about getting a foothold into regulating in the future."

Michael Weinberg, vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based digital advocacy group Public Knowledge, says that Israel's bill -- which hasn't reached the House yet -- originally included tons of heavy-handed language about 3D printing, but that a coterie of people from the 3D-printing community persuaded him to tone it down.

"The basic argument we gave him was 'when you bring regulation into technology, there are a lot of unintended consequences,'" Weinberg says, explaining that, while he remains agnostic on gun policy issues, he's adamant about keeping the 3D-printing industry open and fecund.

And he argues, 3D-printed guns are still sort of a novelty item, and may never be popular enough to warrant heavy regulation. It's still much cheaper to buy a gun.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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