Skip to main content

House extends plastic gun ban, leaves loophole for 3D-printed guns

3d guns banned australia liberator printed gun
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a 10-year extension of the Undetectable Firearms Act, a federal law that bans plastic guns or other firearms with low-metal constructions that can hide from metal detectors. What the law doesn’t do – because it was first enacted in 1988, well before the 3D printers became a thing – is require 3D-printed guns to have permanent metal inserts that ensure their detection at checkpoints, like those in court houses, schools, airports, and other public spaces. As you might guess, some lawmakers believe that’s a dangerous loophole.

The most well-known 3D-printed gun, dubbed the Liberator, is made of plastic, and designed to contain a metal block that lets it get picked up by metal detectors. In doing so, the Liberator does not violate the Undetectable Firearms Act. Thing is, the metal block is completely unnecessary for the gun’s function, and can be removed from the gun entirely. Because of this, concerned lawmakers believe the Undetectable Firearms Act should be amended to require that metal inserts in 3D-printed guns be made permanent.

“The House bill is better than nothing, but it’s not good enough,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told CNN. “We absolutely must close the loophole that allows anyone to legally make a gun that could be rendered invisible by the easy removal of its metal part. Under current law, it is legal to make a plastic gun so long as it has some metal in it, even if it is easily removable. The bill we’ll try to pass in the Senate would fix that.”

Sen. Schumer has sponsored a bill that would only extend the Undetectable Firearms Act for one year, which he says would give Congress the time to hash out amendments that apply to 3D-printed guns. If lawmakers tried to include such amendments now, the theory goes, the entire legislative body would slip into a partisan coma, the plastic gun ban would expire entirely (which it’s set to do on Monday, Dec. 9, if Senators don’t approve it), and all hell would break loose … or something like that.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who has spoken out about the potential dangers of 3D-printed guns since January, introduced a bill he calls the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, which would have required the permanent metal inserts in 3D-printed plastic guns, but it failed to gain any traction in the House.

Supporters of 3D-printed guns argue that laws requiring permanent metal inserts are both unnecessary and unfeasible. A 3D-printed gun is expensive and time-consuming to make, rendering it unlikely that they’ll become a widespread problem, they argue. And the 3D printing process makes it impossible to stop and insert a piece of metal that can’t be removed. Some supporters of 3D-printed guns see attempts to update the Undetectable Firearms Act with restrictive provisions as an assault on gun owners and makers.

Fears about 3D-printed guns don’t stop with metal detector evasion, however. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) recently displayed how these guns can explode when made with the wrong kind of plastic.

What are your thoughts on regulating 3D-printed guns: dangerous threat or promising innovation?

Editors' Recommendations

Andrew Couts
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Features Editor for Digital Trends, Andrew Couts covers a wide swath of consumer technology topics, with particular focus on…
Father’s Day Gift Idea: These cheap 3D printers are on sale for less than $300
best 3d printer deals featured image

3D printing has become a lot more accessible these days than it had been in the past. Back then, you'd have to shell out as much as $1,000 for one. Today, however, there are plenty of budget 3D printers out that cost less than $300, such as the Monoprice Mini Delta, Longer Orange 10, and Comgrow Creality Ender 3. These are fantastic gifts for dad and if you order today they'll surely arrive before Father's Day.
Monoprice Mini Delta
-- $160, was $176

The incredible thing about the Monoprice Delta Mini, aside from the fact that it's one of the cheapest 3D printers on the market, is that it boasts a range of advanced features you typically won't find in a $160 3D printer. It has a sturdy, all-metal frame, a heated build plate that helps prevent warping, automatic bed leveling functionality, a maximum resolution of 50 microns, a full-color LCD screen, Wi-Fi connectivity, and compatibility with a wide range of materials. For something that costs less than a FitBit, all that stuff baked-in is pretty impressive. That's not to say the Monoprice Mini Delta is all that great. For starters, it's called Mini because its printing area is only 110 millimeters in diameter (4.3 inches), and 120 millimeters tall (4.7 inches), which definitely puts a limit on what objects you can print.

Read more
The 50-year old Silicon Valley lab that practically invented modern computing
50 years xerox parc alan kay

If I was a betting man, I’d wager that you’re reading this article from home. Why? Because, in the age of COVID-19, home is where just about everyone is these days. The fact that you’re reading this article in the way that you are, however, owes more than a passing debt to a Silicon Valley research laboratory called Xerox PARC, an abbreviation for Palo Alto Research Center.

Turning 50 years old this year, PARC changed the way that we use computers on a profound level. Far outstripping its remit as the research and development wing over the Xerox Corporation, it was to computing what Neils Bohr's institute at Copenhagen was for quantum physics in the 1920s or Motown Records was for soul music in the 1960s.

Read more
3D printing lets hospitals make ventilator substitutes with common equipment
PEEP mask 1

Materialise 3D Prints Non-Invasive PEEP Masks to Alleviate Ventilator Shortage

Many hospitals around the world currently have an alarming shortage of mechanical ventilators, which they can use to treat COVID-19 patients. Responding to this crisis, Belgian 3D printing company Materialise has developed a 3D-printable device that transforms standard equipment available in the majority of hospitals into a mask that can help coronavirus patients get the oxygen they desperately need into their lungs. The company’s smart solution promises to create high positive pressure in patients’ lungs without the use of a traditional ventilator.

Read more