There’s been a great deal of social media outrage and political bluster about a recent legal agreement between the U.S. government and guns rights group Defense Distributed that allowed the group to host files on their website that could make it possible for people to print most of the components of a firearm in the comfort of their own homes. Many gun control activists see this decision as a direct affront to recent efforts to curb gun violence within the United States, and as such, state governments across the land are hurriedly working to counter the federal decision and ban these digital files from being downloaded within their purview.
The problem with this latest outrage, like so many in today’s politically tumultuous atmosphere, is that everyone, including outspoken politicians, seems to be operating with nothing more than a headline-born understanding of the subject. No one seems to be discussing the practical application of these files, the logistics of trying to ban them, or their likelihood to be used in “movie theaters and schools” as one prominent politician recently claimed.
“As of tomorrow, anyone, including criminals and terrorists can have access to blueprints for making deadly weapons with a click of a mouse,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. said earlier this week. “Anyone will be able to download a computer file and use a very simple process to make it possible for them to be able to make a gun.” He went on to say, “These firearms are also untraceable. They will not have a serial number for law enforcement to reference and in the case of purely plastic firearms, these firearms will be undetectable. They will pass through metal detectors without a blip, a buzz or a bell that is going off.”
The truth is, Americans have long built and modified firearms in their homes. My personal approach to firearms, like cars, has always been that they aren’t truly yours until you do something to them. It might be a new air freshener or some better optics, but often, it involves tearing the platform down into a series of parts and swapping new ones in where I see fit. Lots of other folks choose to build their own firearms from the ground up — purchasing the individual components legally and building their platforms to their own exact specifications. Only the receiver, or frame, of the weapon, is a controlled item under U.S. law, and when it comes to the controversy regarding printed firearms, it’s truly only the receiver people ought to be worried about but here’s the thing: printing a gun remains the least practical, least reliable, and least available way to arm yourself — especially if you’re a criminal. The barrier for entry into the 3D gun world is thousands of dollars, time, and technical skills — all things you don’t need if you’re looking to just buy or steal a gun.