During the recent election, the issue of gun control predictably served as a point of contention between the two candidates. Hillary Clinton advocated for “commonsense” regulations on gun ownership such as closing the gun show loophole. As expected, Donald Trump boasted of his NRA endorsement and asserted that he will protect gun ownership rights under the Second Amendment.
A new technology now adds a new dimension to the gun control debate. Legislatures must now confront the issue of “ghost guns,” or guns created with three-dimensional printing devices. Individuals who have access to a three-dimensional printer now have the capability of downloading a program that allows users to print firearms that resemble several different models of guns. Users of the printing devices are able to print both plastic firearms and projectiles that serve as bullets. The ability for individuals to manufacture these three-dimensionally printed guns gives rise to considerable safety concerns given the difficulties of tracking home-made weapons.
Calls for regulation of the printed guns have given rise to disagreements about how legislatures should respond. The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have largely opposed the increasing regulations on printed guns arguing that such regulations restrict gun the second amendment. Others are concerned about the dangers that three-dimensionally printed guns pose for hobbyists and children who attempt to make the guns.
State legislatures have taken notice of this new DIY danger. Earlier this year, California governor signed Assembly Bill No. 857 into law. Subject to some exceptions, the law requires any “a person who manufactures or assembles a firearm to first apply to the department for a unique serial number or other identifying mark.” Similarly, New Jersey Senate Bill 363 criminalizes the possession of “a firearm, firearm receiver, or magazine that is manufactured or produced using additive manufacturing or three-dimensional printing technology, computer numerical control mills, or a laser cutting machine.”
Given the expectation that three-dimensional printers will continue to drop in price, homemade ghost guns may become an increasingly worrisome phenomenon. Because individuals will be able to rather easily and cheaply create these ghost guns, the technology may lead to both accidental and intentional firearm deaths. Although legislatures may attempt to limit the use of these devices by penalizing their use, it will be difficult to prevent those with printers to slow ghost gun production. As a result, legislatures may have to craft more creative solutions in response to this new threat.