In a textbook combination of “late to the party” and “seize the moment,” a number of our liberal politicians have suddenly gone nonlinear over 3D printed guns. Their histrionics would be laughable if they weren’t so insidious, because they’re acting as if a – the technology suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and b – something epic is about to happen.

The background: A pro-gun activist named Cody Wilson developed a design for a handgun that could be made with a 3D printer (a bit of technology that evolved to the point of affordability for individuals). He named this handgun The Liberator, as an homage to an unrealized WWII plan by the Allies to drop single-shot pistols into Nazi-occupied territories. He uploaded the 3D printer files for the design to the Internet, and they got downloaded at least a couple hundred thousand times.

This all happened in 2013.

As we all should know, once something’s on the Net, it’s there forever. That genie doesn’t get put back in the bottle.

Nevertheless, the government acted. It sent Wilson a cease-and-desist, claiming that his upload violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Wilson complied, immediately, and took the downloads off his website.

In 2015, Wilson filed a lawsuit against the government, asserting that ITAR was vague and fluid, and that the government violated his free speech rights in their cease-and-desist. That suit has been in on-going litigation since then.

It is the government’s decision to settle that suit that put plastic guns and “ghost guns” (not the same thing, hang on for a second) on the radar of folks like NY Senator Chuck Schumer and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo. And, in a gross misrepresentation of the settlement, the facts, and current state of things, they and many others are fanning the flames of outrage, and demanding that government act, now, to stop the imminent threat of a deluge of untraceable and undetectable guns hitting our streets.

Thing is, it has always been legal to manufacture your own guns. Thing is, the plans for the Liberator have been out there for years. Thing is, people have been making “ghost guns,” i.e. guns that don’t have serial numbers or are known to the government, for years. Cody Wilson has been selling a CNC milling machine, that can be used to “finish” an AR-15 receiver, for years (The receiver, the part of the gun that is at the core of its function and therefore is the part of the gun that the government requires be identified via serial number, can be made and sold to the public without serial numbers or traceability if it is only 80% complete. A competent machinist can “finish” the receiver, and Wilson’s machine, plus open source software, makes it doable for a home hobbyist to do the same). Hundreds (at least) have already been sold.

All this lies within the broader reality that technological advances have further undermined the government’s already-weak ability to limit access to guns.

There are other realities in this moment. The court settlement is specific, relating only to Cody Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed. The legality of making guns at home hasn’t changed. Possessing guns that cannot be sensed by metal detectors is and remains illegal. The Liberator is a crudity and not of tremendous practical use, especially when a black market for proper guns existed, continues to exist, and will exist in the future, no matter what government does. The Liberator was revealed to the public over 5 years ago, and the litigation has been on-going for 3 years.

So, why the sudden freakout? Pure political theater, abetted by the media’s typical tendentiousness and ignorance. Eight states’ attorney generals filed suit to stop the Defense Distributed settlement from going into effect on August 1, citing arcane procedural violations in the actual suit, but chest-thumping about halting an imminent societal danger in public. Trump has waded into the mix in response (he couldn’t help himself, it seems), and is making noise about how selling plastic guns to the public doesn’t make much sense. If you’ve read and digested what I wrote here, you see the ignorance in that noise.

I expect that lawmakers will “do something” by enacting some new laws. These laws will either be redundant or won’t make a hill-of-beans difference to anyone with nefarious intent, and instead only serve to infringe on the rights of the law-abiding. Then, the pols will move on to the next bit of hyperventilation, warm-and-fuzzy in their righteous belief that they Did Good.

One final bit. A far more effective “subversion” than the Liberator and its plans is the Ghost Gunner CNC machine, which allows the enterprising to make AR-15s and other actual, real-world, made-from-steel firearms. The AR-15 and its black brethren have gained notoriety in recent years, as the ‘preferred’ weapons (but not so much, really) of mass murderers (only about 1/4 of mass shootings involved “assault weapons”). But, the fact is that the AR-15 is the most popular rifle design in the country, and that fewer than 1 in 10,000 are ever used in a crime. Despite that, and primarily in the desire to “do something,” some states and localities have written laws banning this and similar rifle styles. The facts of technological advancement make such bans even more pointless and ineffective, and serve only to make criminals out of the law-abiding.

For more analysis, I suggest this article and the embedded links therein.

And, I also suggest that, if plastic guns suddenly concern you, that you take a deep breath and realize that you’re being manipulated by the cynical, the self-serving, and the ignorant.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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