Okay, 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 already on the books. And besides, criminals don’t follow the law when they go out to get or use a gun.
It is not that I’m blind to the problem.
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, we’ve got to keep up with changing trends so today I’d like to propose a gun control idea. This one 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 on-line, walk a buyer through how to use a 3D printer to make the crucial lower frame or receiver of a firearm. Then other parts – like the barrel, stock or sight can 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 DIY kits available today have graduated. Plastic has been replaced with metal and a buyer can now replicate a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle in just a few hours. A recent on-line demonstration showed this homemade firearm (the civilian version of the military M-16 rifle) 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 plastic that form precisely shaped three dimensional objects – like a firearm’s receiver, the part the trigger and other mechanisms rest upon. This is also the part of a gun the federal government requires be stamped with a serial number so the weapon can be traced. But a homemade version has no serial number. If the gun is used in the commission of a crime law enforcement is 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 members of drug cartels, street gangs and human traffickers can 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 firm, Defense Distributed, fashioned the first 3D handgun. He called it the “Liberator” and offered the weapon’s digital blueprint on-line for easy duplication. Since then Wilson, 29, has become an unapologetic provocateur and gun rights activist.
Today Wilson is pushing a $1,500 rifle kit that includes a machine called the “Ghost Gunner,” a do-it-yourself milling mechanism. The buyer gets a gun’s metal receiver that is 80% complete and using the milling apparatus it quickly becomes 100% ready to receive all the other necessary parts to make a fully functional – and completely untraceable – AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in about four hours.
Again, this is legal. After all, Defense Distributed isn’t selling guns, per se, just metal parts that could be fashioned into one.
The supremely confident Wilson says he envisions a world where anyone can create a firearm at home. “Anywhere there’s a computer and an Internet connection,” he proudly says, “there would be the promise of a gun.” Wired Magazine named Wilson one of “The 15 Most Dangerous People in the World.”
Back in 2013, the State Department demanded he remove the original handgun’s 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 his free speech rights were violated when he was forced to remove his internet post. He lost in a lower court but the case is now before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Can anyone please explain why, in a country already awash with more than 300 million guns, we need this batch of untraceable firearms? There are more guns out there than the United States has people, with new ones coming off the legitimate assembly line every day. I respect a citizen’s 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, aimed at taking away the profit from those who make these homemade horrors possible.