Article submitted by guest contributor Ezra Van Auken.
Although relatively small, gun rights advocates and the like took a victory on Monday, after the Senate voted to extend the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 for another ten years. Here’s the catch. Despite the extension of a lengthy firearms bill, policymakers were unable to add provisions regulating the development and use of 3D-printed firearms, a new phenomenon in the tech world.
The law’s extension, originally passed through in the mid-1980s, deems it illegal for companies to manufacture, transfer or sell any firearm that’s undetectable by conventional metal detectors. In addition, the bill mandated that all firearms must contain 3.7oz of metal, and if firearms are being shipped through airport security, there cannot be features on the firearm that distort the original image.
Both the House and Senate had no dilemma passing the original text. However, when it came to adding a provision regarding 3D-printed firearms and removable metal, there was complication. After House members who opposed unrestricted 3D-printed firearms failed to collect support, Senate policymakers tried, and failed. Senate Republicans withdrew their support for an amendment that would require all weapons to contain non-removable metal.
The reason policymakers chose a provision to require all gun manufacturers to implement permanent metal piecing is because under current law, there is no restriction on removable metal, making all plastic 3D-firearms with removable metal legal.
Senator Charles Schumer introduced the provision, which was ultimately targeting 3D-printed firearms, but other Senators including Republicans instructed that Schumer’s provision was open-ended and not easily understood. Shouldering eager Democrats, Sen. Charles Grassley said, “Congress needs to gain an understanding of printed gun manufacturing technology and its relation to permanent metal parts.”
According to Schumer, the “gun industry” has practically been absent from debate. The Democratic Senator applauded the gun lobby for not intervening or participating in the debate over 3D-printed firearm rights. Optimistic, both parties believe the future debate over the 3D firearm market will see compromise, and eventual law would be passed. Just before deadline, President Obama signed the 3D-empty extension.
Gun-control advocates believe without additional provisions, metal pieces could be easily removed, providing a loophole for potential threats through security. And of course, the 3D-printed firearms would create black market business, whether good or bad, for individuals to purchase undocumented firearms. Despite federal failure to pass 3D-firearm restrictions, other states and cities are working on the very same issue.
Philadelphia, the first city to pass 3D-firearm legislation in the US, actually banned the manufacture and use of 3D-printed firearms. The city council, consisting of ten members, unanimously passed a 3D prohibition two weeks ago, marking the first restriction on 3D-printed firearms and parts. If violated, an unspecified fine would be applicable to the violator. Councilperson Johnson called the 3D-firearm technology a “recipe for disaster.”
When Johnson’s legislative director was asked, regardless of the law being passed, if the easy access of 3D technology provide criminals with a way to produce firearms, the director responded, “You could use that same line of thinking with any law.”
For gun advocates, the prescription of gun prohibition isn’t a solution, but rather a patch over the problem of violent crime. With the federal government looking to take a stab at 3D-printed firearm technology, the metal mandate could only be the start of a long and enduring process for 3D gun owners and manufacturers.