The U.S. House of Representatives voted to renew the 25-year-old Undetectable Firearms Act on December 3rd. The Senate followed suit on December 9, the day the bill was set to expire. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law as soon as it reaches his desk. The law stipulates that all firearms must have enough metal components to be noticed by x-ray machine and metal detectors. The City of Philadelphia took a proactive step of its own on November 21, passing a statute banning 3D printing of firearms in its jurisdiction.
The federal law was already in place when Defense Distributed (DD), a non-profit 3D firearms maker, reported more than 100,000 downloads of the open-source blueprints for its plastic gun, called the Liberator, this past May. Federal officials stopped downloads from DD's homepage, but the blueprints were already widely disseminated at that point. 3D printing is a relatively new phenomenon, but with hardware becoming more affordable everyday, lawmakers will have a difficult time stopping it completely.
The Evolution of 3D Printing
Technology research firm Gartner declared 3D printing peaked in 2012. The new technology had failed to catch on quickly with the general public, and was relegated to obscure hobby status. The price of hardware had also held back the industry, with the cheapest printers going for around $25,000 in 2007. Today a decent 3D printer can be had for around $500. These machines, however, lack the precision to create mechanical parts, like the more advanced and expensive MakerBot, which goes for about $1,800.
Is It Illegal To Print Guns?
Despite Congress renewing the aforementioned law, building guns for personal use is perfectly legal and you don't even need blackout shades on your windows to hide your activities. The Gun Control Act of 1968 specifically authorizes Americans to build any firearm they want (including AK-47s and AR-15s), as long as no more than 10 parts are imported. Further, 3D-printed guns are still legal as long as they contain at least one metal part for a detector to pick up.
But you'll likely need to own a printer to have one. A San Diego UPS Store became the first company to offer 3D printing services in August, but specifically bans the printing of guns. You can always search directories like MakeXYZ.com and 3Dhubs.com to find people in your area with printers who will allow gun printing.
Congressman Wants Tougher Regulation
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced a separate bill on December 3 that would add more concise language to the Undetectable Firearms Act. Specifically the bill would require all 3D-printed hand guns to contain at least two metal, non-removable parts. Rifles would require three such parts. The bill has little chance of passing, however, as House Republicans have indicated any amendments to the current bill would not be accepted.
Harry is an accomplished hunter and archer from Idaho.