DIY is all the rage these days, but when it comes to making your own firearms at home, the issue gets a bit tricky. Now that someone is selling the plans for DIY gun manufacturing, opening up many constitutional and regulatory questions, perhaps the most important question is the basic concern over safety.
In 2013, a man from Austin, Texas posted blueprints for making a plastic gun using a 3D printer. He called his company Defense Distributed, and he called the gun the Liberator. In that same year, the US government blocked the distribution of those gun designs, and so the man, Cody Wilson, sued the government in 2015. After settling with the Trump administration in June, Wilson was set to start distributing his plans again on August 1, but a judge in Seattle, Robert S. Lasnik from the US District Court for Western Washington, reinstated the original restraining order.
Despite the clear intention of the court, Wilson has decided to interpret the injunction as restraining him from giving away the gun designs for free, but not keeping him from selling them. So he’s now selling the plans at any price named by customers, and he says that his company has emailed or shipped them to thousands of customers.
Typically, gun regulation issues revolve around the constitutional right to keep and bear arms as given by the Second Amendment. In 2008, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion for the Supreme Court affirming that the Second Amendment upholds the rights of individuals to keep firearms in their homes for private use. And now, with the technology of 3D printing of guns comes the First Amendment issue of a person’s right to share and distribute the 3D printing instructions. In this case, Wilson is claiming that his right to free speech allows him to distribute these plans.
Beyond the constitutional issues, the pragmatic questions abound. Officials are concerned about the untraceability of 3D-printed guns. Since anyone can now make their own guns in their living rooms, theoretically, gun control advocates fear the proliferation of weapons on the streets with no restrictions.
But another question is raised in this case, and that’s the one of basic safety. Gunsmithing has historically been a trade and art practiced by trained experts, and the manufacturing processes have been honed and controlled to ensure the proper functioning of these firearms.
People can now download plans for making their own AR-15 rifles or M9 Beretta pistols, weapons that require a high degree of precision manufacturing. The type of 3D printer required for such a task costs upwards of $10,000, and even then, the ability for an amateur to inspect and construct the weapons safely is highly doubtful.
“Thousands of people are accidentally injured each year by firearms,” says one personal injury lawyer in New York. How much higher will this number go when people are making their own guns out of ABS plastic, the same material used to make Legos?