Eric McGinnis knew he was forbidden from using a firearm for two years: He was in court when a Dallas district court judge issued the domestic protective order in 2015. The next year, he was turned away from a gun shop when his background check results showed the order.
Rather than simply wait a few months more, McGinnis decided to sidestep the system.
“I didn’t buy a gun; I built the gun,” he admitted during a recorded jail call with a relative. The 43-year-old Texan also confessed to 3-D-printing the lower receiver, installing the trigger and piecing together the weapon.
In July 2017, McGinnis was found with a partially 3-D-printed AR-15 rifle and a hit list of federal legislators’ names and addresses, according to a statement released by the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, Erin Nealy Cox.
A federal judge imposed an eight-year sentence on him on Wednesday, as the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the most significant gun-control legislation to advance this far in years. The measure being considered in Congress would require background checks for all domestic gun sales and most domestic gun transfers.
But McGinnis entirely bypassed any background check.
“We have a violent individual with domestic violence case, a protective order and multiple levels of admonitions,” Nealy Cox said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “Eric McGinnis circumvented all of that, got a 3-D printer and printed a gun.”
A year before his arrest, McGinnis tried to purchase a receiver — one component needed to assemble a semiautomatic rifle. Nealy Cox said a licensed gun shop refused the sale when it received McGinnis’s background check results, which disclosed the outstanding court order, a restriction set to expire the following month.
Last week, Nealy Cox’s office launched a new initiative to fight domestic violence with federal firearms law, which “prohibits convicted domestic violence abusers, as well as those subject to certain protective orders, from possessing guns.”
“The rates of domestic violence cases are staggeringly high, and Eric McGinnis’s case cemented the fact that we can have a significant impact when we enforce the law,” she said.
Federal defender Juan Rodriguez, who represented McGinnis, declined to comment on the case.
Three-D-printed guns are a subset of do-it-yourself firearms, for which components can be fabricated with a 3-D printer, often in polymer plastic, nylon or metal.
As The Washington Post reported in August, according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, 3-D-printable, computer-assisted design files — called blueprints — have been available in the United States for download since at least 2013, although technical knowledge and access to press mills limited their ability to become a ubiquitous threat.
Since then, the machines have become more readily available. Manufacturing companies, engineering schools and public libraries even host public spaces for 3-D printing, fueling fears among gun-control advocates and Democratic lawmakers that 3-D-printed guns are a future threat.
Several concerns surround these weapons: Homemade guns make firearms accessible to individuals who otherwise would not pass a background check. This includes people typically barred from acquiring firearms by state and federal law, such as minors, the mentally ill and felons. They also have no serial number, eliminating an effective investigative tool for law enforcement.
Responding officers recovered from McGinnis’s backpack a multi-page typed list “labeled ‘9/11/2001 list of American Terrorists,’ ” with names and addresses of Democratic and Republican members of the House and the Senate. The law enforcement statement added that a forensic search of McGinnis’s electronic devices revealed his interest in individuals who attempted to kill lawmakers, including James Hodgkinson, the shooter who wounded Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) at a congressional baseball practice in Virginia in 2017.
McGinnis also lied to law enforcement, claiming to be a CIA agent.
He was convicted on two counts following a two-day trial: possessing an unregistered short-barrel rifle and unlawfully possessing ammunition while subject to an active protective order, a statute aimed at keeping firearms out of domestic abusers’ hands.
“Mr. McGinnis applied evolving technology to bypass those controls to manufacture an untraceable NFA weapon,” said Jeffrey C. Boshek II, special agent in charge of the Dallas Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “The fact a prohibited person was able to manufacture an untraceable firearm with apparent ease and anonymity presents a significant challenge and major concern to law enforcement and our community.”