The Washington Post

Gun from 3D printer poses quandary for gun-control advocates

A Texas organization announced Monday that it has designed and fired a plastic gun that can be assembled using a 3D printer and publicly available blueprints. Dominic Basulto writes that the development will pose a challenge for legislators:

What makes the 3D-printed gun so dangerous is that it muddies the waters of the gun control debate in a way that makes it harder for proponents of gun control and technologists to agree on exactly what they mean.

We’re now able to imagine, create and manufacture things that were outside the realm of possibility for some of the most creative pioneers of 3D printing. Since the designs for the Liberator are available to download for free, should we even be regulating it as a gun—or as a piece of intellectual property? Should the CAD files being downloaded worldwide fall under Internet censorship guidelines? (Read more about the weapon here.)

Meanwhile, advocates of gun control hope that a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases could eventually go to a vote after being blocked by a filibuster in the Senate last month. At least two Republican senators have indicated they are willing to reconsider their votes against the bill, according to Ed O’Keefe and Phillip Rucker:

Senate aides and activists pushing for stricter gun laws say there are probably two windows of opportunity for the Senate to return to gun legislation: this month after consideration of an Internet taxation bill, or this summer after wavering senators have had enough time to reconsider their position.

But key to the issue’s success would be a new groundswell of support for stricter gun laws among the general public, according to legislative aides and activists. Supportive lawmakers are waiting to see whether a new public campaign by gun-control groups and the White House will put enough pressure on senators who voted no to reconsider.

Yet data released Tuesday by the Justice Department suggests the proposed gun- control measures might not be effective in reducing violence, Jerry Markon reports:

Fewer than 1 percent of state prison inmates who possessed a gun when they committed their offense obtained the firearm at a gun show, the report said. Gun shows were central to the measure recently rejected in the Senate: It would have extended the current background-check requirement for firearms purchases from covering only sales at licensed dealerships to any sale that takes place at a gun show or was advertised in print or online.

About 40 percent of state prison inmates obtained their firearms from illegal sources such as theft or through a drug deal, the report said, while 37 percent got their guns from a family member or friend. Those findings are based on data from 2004.

For more on the chances for gun-control legislation, continue reading at Wonkblog. In Carter Eskew’s opinion, the debate over gun control shows that our institutions of government are not prepared for a world in which anyone can manufacture a lethal weapon at home:

The manufacturer gushed, “Anywhere there’s a computer and an Internet connection, there would be the promise of a gun.” Well, not quite. You still need the printer, which costs about $8,000. But, as with all other electronics, the price probably will fall dramatically. Critics already perceived the recent gun bill to be inadequate to the challenge of gun violence; criminals and psychopaths need only wait for the printers to get cheaper before they can make all sorts of evil in their basements. And Congress will still be chasing the gun shows. . .

Is government ready for this? It seems no; too often our democratic institutions are still tilting at windmills that long ago became turbines.

Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.

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