A federal judge last week blocked the release of blueprints for 3D printed plastic guns, just hours before they were set to be made available by the company Defense Distributed.
Those blueprints would potentially allow anyone with a 3D printer to make an untraceable, unregulated gun at home.
The case raises First and Second Amendment questions, but it may be legal wrangling over something of a moot point: Despite the judge’s order, blueprints for 3D printed guns are already available online.
“These files have been up on the web since 2013 on very legitimate websites. You don’t even have to go to the deep dark corners of the web to get them,” said Matthew Spenko, associate professor at IIT’s Armour College of Engineering and head of its robotics lab.
That means anyone with a 3D printer can make a so-called “ghost gun.”
“You can really, with zero experience in computer-aided design software, very easily get started with (3D printing) just by building things that other people have designed, within minutes,” Spenko said.
Even if the blueprints are widely available, some opponents are trying to put up legal roadblocks. But for the moment?
“Right now, it’s legal to make your own gun,” said Harold Krent, Dean of the Chicago-Kent College of Law at IIT. “There is nothing illegal about the speech. I think the stronger argument is that it is protected under the First Amendment.”
What the government can do, Krent says, is to put regulations on 3D printed guns in place, akin to the regulations already in place on traditional guns. And while he doesn’t think regulations on 3D printed guns would violate the Second Amendment, he does think they have their limits.
“Most states ban people – prior felons, people who have protective orders against them, people who have been adjudicated to be mentally ill – from owning weapons. If they can make their own weapons at home, how do you enforce it? It’s hard to enforce that now anyway. But I think this reinforces that sort of difficulty.”
While the ease with which some people might be able to print an untraceable weapon alarms many, Spenko says the guns may or may not be reliable.
“There are videos on the web that show that they do work. There are also plenty of videos on the web that show them exploding,” Spenko said. “I’ve 3D printed enough products in my life to know that the resulting product you build is usually the right size and shape, or at least close to the right size and shape, but … there are a lot of structural errors that occur. Based upon that, I would be very hesitant to personally fire one of these guns.”
Spenko and Krent join Chicago Tonight for a conversation.