Sen. Gillibrand Spearheads Effort Against 3D Printed Guns with New Legislation

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U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand formally announced the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act, a legislative initiative initially introduced by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey in July 2021. The bill’s primary objective is to stop the online distribution of blueprints for 3D printed firearms, thereby curbing the escalating concern over homemade firearms without traceable serial numbers, better known as ghost guns. Gillibrand’s announcement took place during a press conference last week accompanied by other state officials, gun safety advocates, and representatives from pro-gun control nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety and the New York Police Department (NYPD) labor union Detectives’ Endowment Association, among others.

After its introduction in 2021, the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act was read aloud twice on the Senate floor. Following these readings, the bill typically moves to the relevant committee, in this case, the Committee on the Judiciary. This committee can decide to review the bill further, hold hearings, gather expert testimony, and discuss any needed changes. Depending on the committee’s findings and decisions, the bill could either be sent back to the Senate floor for a full vote or remain in the committee without further action, which could effectively stall its progress.

Ghost guns have evaded conventional regulatory mechanisms. Their components are often sourced from “ghost gun kits” or 3D printed using CAD files available online. The alarming ease of accessing these models, without even needing a background check, coupled with the potential to bypass metal detectors due to their plastic body, highlights the rising threat.

Springfield detectives seized two firearms and drugs on March 13, 2023. Image courtesy of Springfield Police Department.

NYPD data reveals a 75% surge in ghost gun seizures last year, with 20 firearms recovered from Manhattan crimes in 2022 alone. Since Mayor Eric Adams’ January 2022 inauguration, the NYPD confiscated 8,500 illegal guns, including 540 ghost guns, marking a 76% rise from 2021. Statewide data from the New York State Intelligence Center highlights a 135% increase in ghost gun recoveries in 2021 compared to the previous year.

This trend isn’t isolated to New York. Major cities across the U.S. report similar findings. 3DPrint.com’s data reveals 3D printed gun arrests doubled in 2021 and tripled in 2022 compared to previous years. May 2023 alone witnessed the NYPD making a record number of gun-related arrests, with 349 individuals apprehended, resulting in the seizure of 284 firearms.

Senator Gillibrand emphasized the “urgency,” stating: “With the increase in ghost gun seizures in NYC, we need to do more at the federal level to stop 3D printed guns from ever being created in the first place. The 3D Printed Gun Safety Act is federal legislation that would ban the online distribution of blueprints for 3D printing of firearms. Those who shouldn’t have a gun also shouldn’t be able to print one with just the click of a mouse. By cracking down on the blueprints as well as the guns themselves, we can limit the availability of ghost guns and make it more difficult for dangerous individuals to get their hands on them.”

The legislation has garnered extensive support. State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal commented on the synergies between this federal action and a state bill he co-drafted to criminalize the production of 3D printed and ghost guns.

“I’m proud to support Senator Gillibrand’s much-needed federal action on untraceable guns through her new bill, the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act. Her legislation is an important and necessary complement to our state bill (S7364) that makes the manufacturing of 3D-printed guns and ghost guns illegal that I drafted with Assembly Member Rosenthal in consultation with Manhattan District Attorney (DA) Bragg,” expressed Hoylman-Sigal.

Bragg praised Gillibrand’s leadership while urging the New York legislature to prioritize legislation that criminalizes the sharing of 3D printable gun files. Earlier this year, Bragg announced similar legislation that would make it illegal to share these digital models in New York.

3D printed handgun that was being actively printed at the time the search warrant was executed in Nova Scotia, Canada. Image courtesy of Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

This bill’s introduction is the latest chapter in an ongoing debate that began in the early 2010s with Defense Distributed’s release of the 3D printed Liberator gun design. The U.S. Department of State initially instructed the organization to remove the blueprints, claiming a violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which control the export of defense-related materials and data. This led to a lengthy legal clash that culminated in a 2018 settlement. However, states were quick to counter this move due to ghost gun-related public safety apprehensions.

Emerging threat?

Growing concern over new ways to make guns should be addressed while ensuring people’s First and Second Amendment rights are respected. The ability to create firearms without serial numbers disrupts the conventional mechanisms law enforcement uses to track and regulate firearms, posing a significant threat to public safety. This problem worsens when these weapons avoid background checks and age limits, potentially allowing dangerous individuals or minors to possess deadly firearms.

Just days before Senator Gillibrand announced the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act, Manhattan legislators, in collaboration with the NYPD, ramped up their efforts to counter ghost guns. Spearheaded by Bragg, new legislation was introduced on June 2, aiming to criminalize the production of 3D printed firearms and components. Announced during Gun Violence Awareness Month, this bill seeks to address manufacturing loopholes, enhance penalties, and criminalize the printing of ghost guns and the distribution of digital blueprints for firearm parts.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (right) in NYC to announce the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act she is co-sponsoring. Image courtesy of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand via Instagram.

3D printing has brought about countless advantages but has also opened the door to potential misuse. In the context of firearms, the ability to download a gun’s CAD model and print it at home seemed like a distant dream a decade ago. Today, it’s a harsh reality. With 3D printing technology becoming more advanced and affordable, barriers to 3D printing guns have significantly diminished. That’s not to say that everyone who 3D prints a weapon plans to use it for criminal advantage, but the fact that criminals themselves are turning to 3D printing is undoubtedly a concern for law enforcement.

Mary Hernandez and Alexandra Maruri from the Angellyh Yambo Foundation emphasized their support for the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act, highlighting the dangers of easily accessible online blueprints for ghost guns. Hernandez stressed the ease with which these weapons can be constructed and the urgent need to address these loopholes for community safety. Maruri reiterated this sentiment, noting the rise in ghost guns as the weapon of choice for many offenders due to the accessibility of 3D components and blueprints online.

Ghost gun victim Angellyh Yambo’s mother, Yanely Henriquez, and aunt, Mary Hernandez, of the Angellyh Yambo Foundation, support the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act. Image courtesy of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand via Instagram.

National response

While individual states have raced to address the issue, a coordinated national response has been seen by many as the most effective way to combat the spread of ghost guns. Senator Gillibrand’s 3D Printed Gun Safety Act moves in that direction. If passed, this legislation would restrict the spread of firearm blueprints and send a strong message about the U.S. government’s stance on unregulated weapon proliferation.

However, like all pieces of legislation, the Act could face challenges. Advocates for gun rights and free speech might contest the bill on constitutional grounds, while 3D printing enthusiasts could argue against suppressing innovation in the sector. On the other side of the debate, gun safety advocates, parents, educators, and many urban communities, concerned by the rise in gun violence will likely view this as a necessary step towards safety.

While the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act signifies a big step towards handling a new challenge, it shows how technology, laws, and keeping people safe can be hard to balance. As lawmakers try to keep up with changing technology, handling concerns while respecting rights and innovations is essential, although this might not be an easy task. This law, and the discussions around it, might influence how governments approach firearms and online freedoms moving forward.

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