One country has put its foot down and decided that giving people carte blanche to print their own firearms is probably not a great idea.
That country is not the United States but Singapore, which this week passed a piece of legislation — the Guns, Weapons, and Explosives Control Bill — an omnibus weapons regulation law, that, among other things, banned the nation’s residents from owning digital blueprints for 3D-printed firearms without a proper licence.
Digital blueprints are the bedrock of 3D printing — being the designs that get input into the printing machine that let it poop out a physical object. By outlawing unauthorised ownership of the blueprints, Singapore isn’t necessarily making 3D-printed gun ownership illegal, but it’s doing the next best thing.
Licensing for the guns sounds like it will typically be given to manufacturers who have the authorisation to print the weapons — though there are certain exceptions to the prohibition, including for law enforcement and those employed with the nation’s security services.
Singapore’s new weapons law replaces an older law, the Arms and Explosives Act, which had similar provisions surrounding digital blueprints for weapons. The legislation helps to tighten prior laws on weapons ownership — partially through significantly raised fines for unlicensed activity with weapons and explosives, reports 3Dprint.com. There are some humorous exceptions to the policy (you’re still allowed to own blueprints for swords and brass knuckles, apparently, and gun accessories — like silencer barrels or other suppressors — are still ok), but overall it seems like a sensible step in the right direction for an issue that has remained something of a policy conundrum for governments.
For many countries, including the U.S., concerns around 3D-printed guns have been ongoing for some time. Some of these are more theoretical than concrete — as self-made guns are still relatively expensive and difficult to produce. Still, people worry about the hypothetical ways criminals could utilise them: they’re plastic, which makes them able to evade metal detectors and they are clearly a workaround for traditional state or federal regulations like background checks and prohibitions on ownership by felons and violent offenders.
In 2016, a Texas man who had been denied a gun by a federally licensed firearm dealer turned to the Internet and printed himself the parts for an AR-15 rifle. He was later arrested for its possession and was found to be carrying a “hit list” of “American terrorists”: current and former members of Congress. Never a good thing to find.
Despite ongoing concerns, there are currently no state or federal laws in the U.S. banning people from owning self-printed guns. Owning one doesn’t require passing a background check or registering the weapon, either. Instead, like Singapore, the U.S. federal government has taken a number of steps that similarly seek to ban access to digital blueprints, disallowing their creation — but has had mixed success. The laws have shifted back and forth on this issue: digital blueprints have seen a federal legal challenge twice and been blocked from the Internet, but under the Trump administration federal regulations were relaxed to allow them back into the mix.
Indeed, today you can find digital gun blueprints online fairly easily. All you have to do is buy a subscription to Defcad (dubbed a “Netflix of guns”), which loans out firearm blueprints for a fee, or, if you’re feeling cheap you can troll through the Dark Web to allegedly find blueprints for as low as $US12 ($15) a pop.
Actually, the biggest thing that worries most people about 3D-printed weapons is that they explode a lot. So if you don’t want a gun that blows up in your hand and sends white hot plastic shards flying in all directions, maybe best not to go the self-printing route.