Are 3D Printed Plastic Guns Legal?


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The arrival of 3D printing technology has led to some amazing new possibilities for things like replicating broken parts, creating amazing works of 3D art, and manufacturing entire items from patters found online. But, as is usually the case with any new technology, someone finds a way to use it for something sinister. Several creators invented 3D printed plastic guns and made plans available online. But, are these 3D printed plastic guns legal?

The problems with the 3D printed plastic guns are several fold. First, they are highly dangerous to the user. Most degrade after only one or two firings and can explode in the user's hand causing serious injury. Second, because they are able to be printed at home, they lack things like serial numbers, background checks, or waiting periods. And, third, because they are made out of plastic, these guns can be carried through security checkpoints, often without detection.

The third issue had been of most concern to federal lawmakers who on December 9, 2013 signed a 10-year extension to a law banning guns that were undetectable to metal detectors, X-ray machines, and other security devices. To comply with the law, any gun, whether printed via 3D printer or manufactured and purchased in a store, must contain a metal piece that would render it detectable.

Some have suggested the law does not go far enough, in that the metal piece could be removable and still comply with the federal law. Similarly, the ban does not address the other concerns regarding gun registration and the risk to the user. This law illustrates the often difficult balancing act between regulating new and emerging technology while holding true to the framework of the U.S. Constitution including the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Although the law does not go as far as some feel it should, it does help to protect some security interests while attempting to remain as nonrestrictive of citizens' gun rights as possible.

So, to answer the question posed by the article, yes, 3D printed plastic guns are legal provided they include the metal pieces designed to render them detectable by security devices. Otherwise, they are not legal.

From a different perspective, however, 3D printed guns may present unique issues for civil liability. Given the guns' propensity for early failure, the chances of injury when using one are extremely high. The question then is who will be responsible for that injury? The creator of the 3D plans, the person who printed and assembled the gun, or the manufacturer of the materials used to print the gun? The issue has not yet been put to the test in court, but it is likely that some litigation will undoubtedly arise related to these devices at some point. While the liability of manufacturers for the printers and materials used in them would be highly attenuated in such cases, meaning there will likely be little or no liability on their parts, the gun designer may be a different matter. Their designs, when used for their intended purpose, created an actual, firing gun that failed and injured the user, so they may actually have some liability. The best way to ensure that your liability is as limited as possible: do not participate in designing or manufacturing 3D printable guns.

If you have questions about your rights under the ban on undetectable guns you may wish to speak to an attorney with experience in civil rights and/or criminal matters. With regard to the question of potential liability related to 3D printed guns, you may want to speak to an attorney experienced in product liability. In either case, you can find an attorney in your area by visiting the Law Firms page of our website at HG.org.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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