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D.C. mayor to propose legislation banning 3-D-printed firearms, other ‘ghost guns’

Cody Wilson, founder of the group Defense Distributed, holds a 3-D-printed gun called the Liberator at his shop in Austin in August.
Cody Wilson, founder of the group Defense Distributed, holds a 3-D-printed gun called the Liberator at his shop in Austin in August. (Eric Gay/AP)
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D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) introduced legislation on Monday to ban 3-D-printed plastic guns and other “ghost guns” from the District, with officials saying they want to ensure the city’s already restrictive firearms laws keep up with rapidly changing technology.

The District is among several local jurisdictions to introduce or contemplate imposing limits on plastic guns, or banning them outright. Measures that would in effect prohibit the weapons are pending in Congress.

Many law enforcement officials have voiced concern about the guns, which are largely made of plastic and can be created with 3-D printers. It is feared that the weapons — or least a good portion of a completed weapon — would not be caught by a metal detector. The weapons are also untraceable because they do not have serial numbers.

“The purpose of the legislation is to make it crystal clear that a firearm manufactured in a 3-D printer with plastic material is treated with the same rigor as our laws that govern the use and possession of traditional firearms,” said Kevin Donahue, the District’s deputy mayor for public safety.

Making guns at home still legal under federal law

Unregistered firearms are already illegal in the District, as is manufacturing them. But firearms are defined in the District by their firing mechanisms, and Donahue said officials want to “make sure there is no loophole that would allow the production of a firearm with a 3-D printer and argue that our law doesn’t cover it because of the way it was made.”

Adam Skaggs, the chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said California and New Jersey have adopted laws requiring serial numbers and registration for self-built guns. Quorum Analytics said at least five other states are considering legislation to limit or prohibit ghost guns. In Maryland, Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) said she is drafting legislation that would ban 3-D-printed guns and homemade, untraceable ghost guns.

Earlier this year, a federal judge banned a group from posting on the Internet blueprints for 3-D-printed guns, though the plans quickly found their way online anyway.

Nothing in federal law prohibits people from building their own firearms for personal use. Federal law prohibits making a gun that cannot be detected by a metal detector or X-ray machine. Fully plastic guns also are illegal under an amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968, meaning that 3-D-printed guns that do not contain metal could violate the law.

The District requires residents who want to own guns to first go through safety training, fingerprinting and background checks, among other things. Gun rights advocates have scored some legal victories, most recently securing a ruling that makes it easier for people to carry concealed handguns in public places.

Ovetta Wiggins and Peter Jamison contributed to this report.