It is now against the law to possess plans for 3D printed guns in Australia’s most populous state. The New South Wales Parliament passed legislation last week that bans the possession of plans for the manufacture of guns for 3D printers or electronic milling machines, with offenses punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
Australia already has one of the more stringent gun control policies in the world, passed in 1998 in response to a rash of mass shootings in the country in the 1980s and 1990s, most notably the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996. However, the laws were written long before 3D printing existed, so there’s no real laws on the books on possession of the gun itself or the manufacturing plans to make it.
That means Australian gun rights advocates have likely been downloading these plans for some time, even though actual use might be dangerous. Law enforcement in Australia have voiced concern over the proliferation of the weapons and possible catastrophic failures due to weaknesses in the construction of the 3D printed guns.
NSW Police in 2013 tested one of these guns — called the Liberator — and recorded one case where the gun exploded after firing, an incident that would have seriously injured the user in real life. It is likely these tests and its release spurred politicians in NSW and elsewhere in the country to start taking a closer look at the potential issues of 3D weaponry.
Other Australian states are considering passing similar laws, however NSW is the first to do so. The law doesn’t apply to everybody, though: law enforcement is completely exempt, and guns printed for research purposes would be allowed to be approved on a case-by-case basis.
Even with the laws now in place, it is unclear whether it will have any effect. 3D gun plans are easy to get, and it will be hard for law enforcement to enforce as it would require continuous monitoring of Internet traffic to apprehend law-breakers. Given there are limited resources, as well as the fact that there’s bigger fish to fry in the criminal world at this moment, it’s likely this is not something that will get a lot of attention.