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Justice Department Allows Sale of Files for 3D Printed Guns

If anybody can print guns made of plastic at home, what's law enforcement to do?

July 23, 2018 - 10:18 am
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - 3D-printed “ghost guns," made of a plastic-like material, can slip through metal detectors. They're also guns you can print for yourself at home.

The Justice Department is going to allow the sale of files which tell a 3D printer how to create a gun. 3D printers create objects by spraying material, layer by layer, from the bottom up.

“In order to print really anything you either need to have a file, or create a file,” says Matt Cushman, co-owner of Think A Little Bigger, a local St. Louis area 3D printing company. 

He says these gun template files have already been out there on the dark web, and interest is growing.

“For my company, I’ve had a couple people ask, and we are not interested in printing gun parts for anybody,” Cushman says.

If you are, there’s one possible danger to be aware of. Cushman held up a toy he'd made with a 3D printer, except the machine messed up one of the layers. The toy split right at that seam, which could be very dangerous should a gun crack while being fired.

Cushman says 3D printing is one of those neat, new technologies that allow people to do beautiful - and incredibly stupid - things.

If anybody can print guns made of plastic at home, what's law enforcement to do? We asked John Ham of the Division on Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF.

Ham says homemade guns are nothing new, but the feds can step in when the gun is either not made to specification or crosses state lines.  He says rule one is to make sure there's a metal plate inside your homemade gun.

“It’s illegal to manufacture or possess, under federal law, an undetectable firearm, and that’s certainly a concern for obvious reasons,” he says.

Right now, when a gun gets stolen and is used in a crime it can be traced, but 3D printed guns could pose a problem.

“Guns that are manufactured for your own use, the marking requirements are much less," Ham says. "I think that is one of the things that ATF and law enforcement will be watching closely as this technology sort of expands."

On the point that the 3D printed gun could break, Ham says always remember you're dealing with a deadly weapon.

“Those are designed to move ridiculously quickly at several hundred feet per second, and so you’re combining that with the new technology and I think that you’d do well to be very careful,” he says.

Ham says you can keep up to date by visiting the atf.gov firearms tab.