“We favor enforcement of existing regulations over the creation of new regulatory schemes.”

You may notice that this is one of our policy positions, found here. Just keep that in the back of your brain for a few minutes.

Over the last week or so, it seems that the press has caught on (again) to the fact that people can, in fact, manufacture guns for themselves in the comforts of their own garage (or office). Let’s start off with one really important note. This is not a loophole. Say it with me, this is not a loophole. There is a federal law that explicitly allows home construction.

The law prohibits a person from assembling a non–sporting semiautomatic rifle or shotgun from 10 or more imported parts, as well as firearms that cannot be detected by metal detectors or x–ray machines. In addition, the making of an NFA firearm requires a tax payment and advance approval by ATF.

Home firearm building has been a hobbiest pursuit in this country for hundreds of years. You can make AK 47’s out of a shovel, and the technical specifications plans have been available for decades as what amounts to communist era open source (and is why they are the most popular rifle in the world). You can make shotguns out of a couple of pieces of iron pipe, and a zip gun out of a tube from a coffee percolator or from a rubber glove and some hardware from Home Depot. (look it up and get off my lawn!).

For the last several years, the emphasis on so called “Ghost Guns” has revolved around something called an 80% receiver. That’s basically a hunk of metal that still requires work to become a usable firearm. The 80% part is the number that the ATF has determined as still qualifying as a hunk of metal rather than as a firearm, so the home hobby builder can then finish up the last 20% to make something on their own. There are, of course, some caveats. Much like the regulations regarding reloading or manufacturing ammunition for your own personal use, as long as you aren’t making it for resale, you’re good to go in most jurisdictions. And as with any firearm possession, a prohibited person is prohibited from owning a gun that is bought in a shop OR a gun that is made at home.

Over the last week though, the real noise has been over 3D printed guns and Cody Wilson’s case that was dropped by the State Department, who had previously asserted that making drawings on the internet available for download violated ITAR regulations (International Traffic in Arms Regulations). This case was problematic for the State Department for a couple of reasons, namely the First and the Second Amendments to the Constitution. They rightly came to an understanding with Cody’s company on this one and dropped the case (based in part on Obama era loosening of ITAR rules), which has allowed him to start putting up the CAD files on his public website again (they have been out in the wild for years since they were first released, but Cody can post them publicly now without getting a call from the men in black).**edit: Or would have been able to if an injuction hadn’t been granted. Stay tuned for developments**

And surprising to exactly nobody, there is massive amounts of misinformation and misunderstanding of what this means. Our own Lara even went on KUOW in Seattle yesterday to debate with an “expert” on the subject. (have a listen). And some intrepid State AG’s have tried to stuff the genie back in the bottle.

Something about stopping the signal…

Some things to consider:

What has been posted online are CAD files that can be processed by a 3d printer or a CNC mill. These printers take regular CAD files and “print” the shapes in those drawings into physical parts that can be assembled. Most popular in the pictures is the ABS plastic printer “Liberator” single shot handgun. Anybody with a CAD program and expertise can create these files though, Defense Distributed just did it first with a custom design that could be successfully fired.

Here’s a few things that we think are important:

  1.  This is not a loophole. This is a specifically protected activity and folks in this country have legally been making firearms at home for generations.
  2. These guns are not undetectable by metal detectors. They need a metal firing pin or some other metal part in order to be legal, and require metal ammunition. If you want to fire more than 1 round, you’ll also need a metal barrel, as plastic doesn’t handle explosions and heat very well, which is exactly what happens when a bullet is fired
  3. There has not been a massive use of these guns in crimes. There have been reports of 80% receivers being found  in crimes, but common availability of firearms means that the choice is still largely those that have been stolen or otherwise illegally obtained. And possession of these by prohibited persons is still illegal
  4. The plastic ones in all the pictures are single shot weapons. And, as noted above, without some changes, single use as well.

The other thing that is really important here is that some are calling for sweeping new regulations to cover 3D printed guns. When looking at new regulations, it’s really, really important to see how we’re doing first on the ones we already have on the books; whether you support the ATF or don’t, realize that they would be the ones responsible for enforcing new regulations, and between 2008 and 2014, there were 550,000 people who did not pass a background check, while only 274 of them were actually referred for prosecution. They simply do not have the resources to handle the regulations we already have in place- in fact 6 of the last high profile shootings involved folks who “fell through the cracks” and should not have passed their background check in the first place.

That takes us back to the top.

“We favor enforcement of existing regulations over the creation of new regulatory schemes.”

3D printed guns or ghost guns sound scary. They aren’t any different than those manufactured by other means at home in the last hundred years, except that the former is largely less usable as anything other than a novelty. If we want to make an actual impact, let’s talk about funding the ATF and having them go after those 550,000 folks who made false statements or were straight up lying on their background check and didn’t pass it. Otherwise you’re just adding new regulations that sound good on paper, but won’t be enforced and wouldn’t make a bit of difference in reducing crime.

This article was authored by Eric Meyers, with contributions and editing done by Ed Gardner and Lara Cullinane-Smith