Singapore moved to control digital blueprints for 3D printing guns or major gun parts, like barrels or trigger mechanisms. On January 5, 2021, Parliament passed a new Guns, Explosives, and Weapons Control Bill that would make illegal the ownership of digital blueprints of a gun or gun parts without a license. Under the new bill, maximum fines for gun and explosive offenses have been raised to S$50,000 (roughly $38,000) for individuals and S$100,000 ($75,800) for entities, up from S$10,000 ($7,600). Nonetheless, the bill excludes the possession of blueprints for 3D printing other weapons like swords and knuckledusters or imitation guns. It does not intend to regulate 3D printing in itself or 3D printers per se.
The new measure replaces the Arms and Explosives Act, which already required all persons conducting activities related to guns, explosives, and weapons to be licensed; this included 3D printing a gun. The new bill does not change this basic position but aims to tighten controls for guns, explosives, and weapons and strengthen penalties for what it describes as high-risk items like 3D printed gun designs and armed drones.
According to Singapore’s Minister of State for Home Affairs, Desmond Tan, the bill addresses a relatively new phenomenon whereby users can easily seek out and acquire online designs and directions to make a gun using increasingly available 3D printing technology. Under the highly anticipated Clause 13 of the bill, any unauthorized firearm manufacturer that uses 3D printers or electronic milling machines will need a license. However, the law is not overreaching, so blueprints for 3D printing gun accessories designed to be fitted or attached to a gun (like a silencer or flash suppressor) are not included. Neither are the designs for 3D printed swords and knuckledusters, or even replica guns and NERF guns, which pose a much lower risk than an actual working gun or a gun part.
Before the act’s passing, a total of 11 Members of Parliament (MP) from both sides of the House participated in a debate and raised concerns about the new legislation on 3D printed guns. After the debate, Tan indicated that the divergence of views among members shows that there is “no straightforward answer to achieving an appropriate regulatory balance on this matter.”
“On one hand, MP Sharael Taha asked if the offense should be widened beyond guns and major gun parts to also cover gun modifications and attachments, and offensive weapons,” indicated Tan. “MP Melvin Yong also took the view that clause 13 should cover possession of digital blueprints for gun replicas. But on the other hand, MP Yeo Wan Ling was of the view that 3D printed guns are unlikely to work in practice, and that Clause 13 could have a chilling effect on innovative applications of 3D printing.”
Both sides raised valid concerns. MP’s inquired into some of the most alarming issues that have plagued the debate of 3D printed guns ever since self-proclaimed anarchist Cody Wilson revealed his plans to make blueprints for untraceable 3D printed firearms available online in 2012. For example, MP Taha, who supported criminalizing the unauthorized possession of digital blueprints for guns and major gun parts—as proposed in the new bill—still wanted to know how the measure will be enforced and how authorities can ensure that easy access to 3D printers in schools and other agencies is not abused.
In response to Taha’s comments, Tan said police officers are expected to enforce the new bill based on public members’ information, such as the community, family, and friends. He said that all of them play an important role in “flagging out potential lone wolves 3D printing guns illegally with intent to cause harm.”
Additionally, to address MP Ling’s point that 3D printed guns are unlikely to function and her concern on inhibiting innovation, Tan insisted that the threat posed by 3D printed guns and gun parts “is real.” This point was echoed by other members who referenced genuine cases and online videos demonstrating the use of 3D printed guns or gun parts, especially metallic ones.
To shed some light on the matter, 3DPrint.com’s Editor in Chief, Michael Molitch-Hou, explained in 2020 that 3D printed guns have so far “posed little threat to the public at large due to the fact that the plastic parts are easily destroyed by the extreme forces of the weapon upon firing.” Firearm experts have also expressed that plastic weapons require high-end printers and are known to blow up in shooters’ hands, claiming it is far easier to obtain access to an authorized weapon in many countries (as well as illegal firearms in others). However, some of the latest news represents a growing trend in the 3D printing of arms, said Molitch-Hou. Widespread cases continue to bring 3D printed guns to the center of media attention; one of the most recent was a criminal complaint filed against a West Virginia resident accused of selling over 600 3D-printed plastic parts that convert semi-automatics into fully automatic rifles.
In fact, Singapore is not entirely alone in addressing this new phenomenon. Other jurisdictions have also passed legislation that deals with the threat of 3D-printed guns, like the Southeastern Australian state of New South Wales, which passed laws in 2015 to criminalize the unauthorized possession of 3D blueprints to manufacture firearms. Similarly, in 2019, a federal judge in Seattle, Washington, ruled that posting blueprints online for 3D printed guns was illegal.
There are quite a few countries with almost no private ownership of guns, like Japan or China, but Singapore has one of the toughest gun control laws globally, even punishable with death. This new bill severely curtails any attempts to 3D print unauthorized guns or gun parts, and Clause 13, in particular, has garnered more hype than the other aspects of the law, such as licensing of shooting range operations or defenses and countermeasures against armed drone attacks. For Singapore, licensing the possession of 3D printed gun blueprints will enable the authorities to know who is involved in the 3D manufacturing of guns to ensure that proper security and practices for handling these articles, which the country considers could pose a high threat to its citizens.
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