Three-dimensional printers, available in the industrial manufacturing sector since the early 1980s, returned to the limelight this week after Cody Wilson (25) of Texas fired a “printed gun” prototype. While 3D printing has been used extensively in the past for rapid prototyping and research, this development could lead to a shake-up of the traditional manufacturing industry, bringing topics such as firearms regulation and copyright issues into the spotlight.

Talking to media, Donna Sellers of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the 3D-printed gun was legal, the Second Amendment protecting the citizens’ gun ownership rights. She said that under the present laws “A person can manufacture a firearm for their own use. However, if they engage in the business of manufacture to sell a gun, they need a licence.”

Though this is a nation where guns outnumber people and the influential National Rifle Association (NRA) has deep connections within the federal government, there may be a few legal barriers to uncontrolled proliferation of homemade weapons. In particular, Mr. Wilson and his associates appear concerned about his gun blueprint contravening the U.S.’ 1988 Undetectable Firearms Act, which effectively bans the production of plastic guns capable of passing through metal detectors without being spotted.

Incidentally, the law expires this year, it being unclear if it will be revived by the U.S. Congress. As it stands, however, the law says that it is illegal for anyone to “manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer or receive” a firearm that cannot be detected once its grips, stocks and magazines are removed. Mr. Wilson sought to avoid this issue by inserting 175-gram chunk of steel within his prototype.

He issued a warning on the Defcad.Org forum that if people printed guns, “Because of the public profile and interest over this kind of activity at the moment, you WILL be made an example of. You WILL go to federal prison, and you WILL never be able to own a firearm again”.

This did not appear to assuage the fears of gun-control proponents and some such as Leah Gunn Barrett, from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence were quoted as saying: “These guns could fall into the hands of people who should not have guns — criminals, people who are seriously mentally ill, people who are convicted of domestic violence, even children.”

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