Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 5:38 am | A Few Clouds 53º


Diane Dimond: In Age of 3D Printers, Ghost Guns Gotta Go

OK, here I go with another flip-flop. Regular readers of this column know I’m not a big fan of more gun- control laws. Generally speaking, I think we’ve got enough federal and state laws.

And besides, criminals don’t follow the law when they go out to get or use a gun.

I’ve previously written that I think we should do more to make sure the mentally ill can’t buy a gun, and I’ve advocated doing away with (or at least limiting) Internet sales of ammunition. But it’s clear that we’ve got to keep up with changing trends.

Today, I’d like to propose a gun-control idea aimed at curbing the number of new guns hitting American streets: Let’s make so-called do-it-yourself gun kits illegal.

These kits, purchased online, walk a buyer through how to use a 3D printer to make the crucial lower frame, or “lower,” of a firearm. Other parts like the barrel, stock or sight can then be easily added.

The first iteration came in 2013. It was a clunky white plastic handgun that was not very reliable and held only one bullet. The kits available today are more advanced.

Plastic has been replaced with metal, and a buyer can now replicate a semi-automatic AR-15 assault weapon in just a few hours. A recent online demonstration showed a homemade AR-15 that can reliably shoot more than 660 bullets at a time.

And there are no laws against making these guns.

3D printers don’t use ink; they spit out threads of melted polymer that form precisely shaped three-dimensional solid objects.

The federal government requires guns to be stamped with a serial number on the frame or receiver so the weapon can be traced. But 3D-printed guns have no serial number. So if the gun is used in the commission of a crime, law enforcement can be left clueless when trying to tie a weapon to a suspect.

As one police chief in California described this trend, “Gun-smithing has become easier than putting together Ikea furniture because of the 3D printer.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see that those involved in human trafficking, and members of drug cartels and street gangs could churn out countless untraceable guns this way.

We know these so-called ghost guns have been used to murder. In California, the deaths of at least 11 people were caused by these homemade weapons.

Cody Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed, fashioned the first fully 3D-printed pistol called the Liberator. The firm offered the weapon’s digital blueprint online for easy duplication.

Since then, Wilson has become an unapologetic provocateur and gun-rights activist. He’s pushing a $1,500 kit that includes a machine called the Ghost Gunner, a do-it-yourself milling mechanism. The buyer gets a metal gun receiver that is 80 percent complete. Using the milling apparatus, it quickly becomes 100 percent ready to receive all the other necessary parts to make a fully functional — and completely untraceable — AR-15 in about four hours.

Again, this is legal. After all, Defense Distributed isn’t selling guns, per se, just technology that can fashion one.

The supremely confident Wilson says he envisions a world in which anyone can create a firearm at home.

“Anywhere there’s a computer and an Internet connection,” he said proudly, “there would be the promise of a gun.”

Wired magazine named Wilson one of the 15 most dangerous people in the world in 2012.

Back in 2013, the State Department demanded he remove the original handgun blueprints from the Internet, saying that it appeared to be a violation of international arms trafficking regulations. Wilson complied, but by that time, the blueprints had been downloaded some 100,000 times and, almost certainly, widely shared.

Wilson ultimately filed a lawsuit against the State Department, claiming that his right to free speech was violated. He lost in a lower court and then took the case to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Can anyone please explain why, in a country already awash with an estimated 265 million guns, we need untraceable firearms? There is more than one gun out there for every American adult, and new ones are coming off the assembly line every day.

I respect citizens’ constitutionally protected right to own as many guns as they want, but I have to wonder why the powers that be can’t figure out a way to shut down this under-the-radar industry.

Guess it might take another lawsuit, this one filed by the family of a ghost-gun murder victim and aimed at taking the profit away from those who make these homemade horrors possible.

Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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