Democrats Ready Doomed-Looking Ban on 3-D Printed Gun Parts

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 4 2013 6:28 PM

Democrats Ready Doomed-Looking Ban on 3-D Printed Gun Parts

The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 is one of those products of a quieter time when Congress could actually pass gun control legislation. It was a response to the panic over plastic weapons -- easily smuggle-able through airports. Wayne LaPierre's ability to convince people that a law that might be broken wasn't worth passing was not yet fully developed. The law passed, with a 25-year sunset provision.

Yes. It expires at the end of this year. Rep. Steve Israel, who chairs the DCCC (which is supposed to elect a Democratic Congress), is readying a renewal of the law that would add language banning gun components. The reason: He's worried about the rise of 3-D printing, which is being perfected as a way to make reliable gun components and magazines, utterly beyond the reach of licensed gun sellers.

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I asked noted futurist Newt Gingrich today about the possibilities of the 3-D printing movement, and whether they made gun bans irrelevant.

"This is one of these things we're fascinated with," he said. "If I can find a cheap one, I'm giving [nephew] Robert a 3-D printer for his birthday. The fact is that I think the F-35 has 800 parts that can be manufactured by 3-D manufacturing. 3-D printing is really beginning to be a really sophisticated thing. The question is: How do you think you're going to control it? I have a 3-D printer. I decide to make gun magazines. You tell me, gee, there's a federal law against that. You're going to fine me? They can't find the guys who are killing each other in Chicago, but you'll have to register your 3-D printer? I think we're right at the tipping point of a world that is amazingly different. We have almost no political conversation about it."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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