Friday, August 24, 2018

Debate over 3D-printed guns grows in Colorado

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The nation continues to be divided on the issue of gun control — and the conservative argument that even stricter regulations might not stop criminals from getting their hands on guns might be truer than many people thought. Although 3D printers can improve the lives of many, particularly in the medical realm, it's become clear that this technology may have some dark potential if it falls into the wrong hands. Now, Colorado has joined other states to take steps to make sure that printable plastic weapons won't become readily available on the streets.

3D printers have been thought to hold a lot of promise for the future. From prosthetic limbs and printed concrete materials to food and rare gems, this technology has made the creation of expensive, hard-to-come-by materials a lot more accessible for people all over the world. But now, 3D printers could potentially be used to make guns. While it's not likely to be a huge concern, as the plans for 3D-printed guns are notoriously complex and tedious, it's still enough to raise alarm bells for lawmakers and the general public.

Nate Stone, a program administrator for a 3D printing lab at the Denver Public Library, told Colorado Public Radio: "There have been plans for 3D printed guns sort of floating around the Internet since 2013. You'd have to be both really mad and really patient to want to print out a 3D printed gun."

That's because the time, cost and availability of materials, and supervision required for many of these printers would be enough to dissuade most would-be shooters. And given the already high availability of real firearms in the U.S., printed guns may not be the real issue at hand. Countless high-profile shootings have taken place over the past few years, from school shootings to those committed by and against law enforcement officers. In 2016, 62 out of 66 police officers killed in the line of duty were assaulted with firearms, and according to the Washington Post, more than 187,000 students across the country experienced school shootings since Columbine. And of course, 89% of accidental shooting deaths among children happen in their own homes. With those statistics in mind, it would seem that restricting access to the real guns should be the primary focus for lawmakers.

Still, 19 different states — including Colorado — have joined together in a lawsuit against the Trump administration in an effort to make plans for 3D-printed guns illegal to share. The suit is a response to a settlement the administration reached with a company that wanted to post online instructions for 3D-printed firearms that would be hard to detect and to trade. As a result, attorneys general from numerous states and the District of Columbia filed an amended complaint asking a judge to make the sharing of these plans illegal — an action taken just days after U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik blocked those plans from being released until August 28.

The claim maintains that the settlement reached by the presidential administration limits the ability of the states to enforce gun laws (including background checks) and poses a significant risk to public safety. The widespread access to plastic guns could even compromise prison and jail safety and make air travel terrorist attacks more likely.

Of course, not everyone is in favor of limiting public access to guns. The National Rifle Association maintains that existing legislature makes a ban on plastic, 3D-printed guns wholly unnecessary.

In a statement, executive director for the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said: "Many anti-gun politicians and members of the media have wrongly claimed that 3-D printing technology will allow for the production and widespread proliferation of undetectable plastic firearms. Regardless of what a person may be able to publish on the Internet, undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years. A federal law passed in 1988, crafted with the NRA’s support, makes it unlawful to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive an undetectable firearm."

In addition, a gun-rights advocacy group called the Firearms Policy Coalition responded to the judicial decision to prohibit new printing plans from being shared by creating their own website with plans for 3D-printed firearms. An online statement from the group reads: "Our Constitution’s First Amendment secures the right of all people to engage in truthful speech, including by sharing information contained in books, paintings, and files. Should any tyrants wish to chill or infringe the rights of the People, we would welcome the opportunity to defend freedom whenever, wherever, and however necessary."

But lawmakers and gun-control advocates argue that the issue isn't about freedom of information but rather about public safety. Kris Brown, the co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, expressed that the "reckless and dangerous behavior" of the Firearms Policy Coalition is not a constitutional position but rather a "publicity stunt that will lead to someone being hurt or killed." Those sentiments are echoed by the congressional Democrats who introduced the legislation that would block online instructions for 3D printed guns: U.S. Representatives Ted Deutch, Brad Schneider, Carolyn Maloney, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

As yet, the outcome of the amended suit is yet to be determined. But so far, President Trump has been surprisingly silent on the issue — though he did seem surprised that his administration would have agreed to allow the 3D printing plans to be shared online.

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