POLITICS

The NRA's Convenient Hypocrisy On 3D-Printed Plastic Guns

The nation's leading gun group offered an awkward response to controversy over the publishing of blueprints for 3D-printed firearms.

The widespread release of downloadable blueprints for 3D-printed firearms would not give way to a rise in undetectable plastic guns because there already is a law against them, the National Rifle Association claimed Tuesday.

The statement, from Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, appeared to undercut one of the organization’s guiding principles ― that laws banning guns and firearm accessories are pointless because criminals by definition don’t abide by the law. Anyone intent on getting ahold of a piece of weaponry can find a way to do so, regardless of its legality, the argument goes.

Yet here’s Cox saying that we need not worry about people 3D-printing plastic guns ― which can bypass metal detectors ― because the NRA helped pass a law 30 years ago banning those sorts of weapons:

Many anti-gun politicians and members of the media have wrongly claimed that 3-D printing technology will allow for the production and widespread proliferation of undetectable plastic firearms. Regardless of what a person may be able to publish on the Internet, undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years. Federal law passed in 1988, crafted with the NRA’s support, makes it unlawful to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive an undetectable firearm.

If bans on so-called assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and bump stock accessories won’t stop criminals from getting such weaponry, as the NRA frequently says, why should we believe that the Undetectable Firearms Act is a sufficient safeguard against the proliferation of firearms that can skirt security measures?

The NRA’s statement came in the midst of a simmering debate over a June decision by the State Department to settle a lawsuit with Defense Distributed, a Texas-based digital firearms nonprofit, giving it the go-ahead to begin publishing blueprints for 3D-printed guns. Last Friday, the company posted models for seven firearms, racking up tens of thousands of downloads over the next few days. Among them were schematics for the Liberator, a single-shot .380-caliber handgun made almost entirely of 3D-printed plastic.

Although DIY gunsmithing is legal in many forms under U.S. law, including when it’s done with a 3D printer, critics have pushed back against the government’s settlement, saying it would undermine domestic and international gun control efforts by greatly expanding access to untraceable homemade guns. Gun safety groups and some members of Congress have specifically argued that the large-scale dissemination of the blueprints would make it easier for people to produce undetectable firearms.

Defense Distributed’s 3D-printed gun models all appear to contain at least one metal component to make them compliant under the Undetectable Firearms Act. But the steel block in the company’s Liberator design is nonfunctional, meaning people could make versions without the part and still come away with a usable firearm.

On Tuesday evening, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against Defense Distributed, forcing it to halt downloads of the files.

This story has been updated to include details about a gun design from Defense Distributed.

CONVERSATIONS