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Image by Justin Pickard, Creative Commons license 2.0

Thanks to the Trump administration's embrace of all things that fire projectiles, the era of untraceable plastic guns that can be fabricated with a 3-D printer is upon us. The latest plan -- Trump Department of Justice-approved! -- to make the blueprints available online has been temporarily put on hold by a federal judge, pending a court hearing next week. Not surprisingly, the law is trying to play catch-up with the technology, and that's a race the geeks and the gunhumpers tend to win.


In Seattle, US District Judge Robert Lasnik temporarily halted distribution of the blueprints -- electronic files, really -- by Defense Distributed, the Texas-based company run by anarcho-gunfondler Cody Wilson, who just wants information and bullets to flow free. Wilson had convinced the government to allow him to sell the plans to anyone with the money to pay. The restraining order came in response to a lawsuit by eight states and the District of Columbia.

In a statement following Lasnik's ruling, Washington's attorney general, Bob Ferguson, said,

These ghost guns are untraceable, virtually undetectable and, without today's victory, available to any felon, domestic abuser or terrorist. I hope the President does the right thing and directs his administration to change course.

It's unclear whether the ruling will truly block the spread of the things, however, since by the time the order was handed down, files for various weapon designs had been downloaded "thousands" of time, according to the company. According to Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro, that includes at least 1,000 downloads of "3D plans for AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles."

Technically, Ferguson told CNN, Lasnik's order amounts to a "nationwide ban" on all distribution of the files:

What it means is if anyone posts this information online, they are in violation of federal law and can suffer very serious consequences. So, it makes it unlawful to post that information and make it available to the public.

As we all know, people take the legality of downloaded files very seriously.

For now at least, the technical challenges to 3D-printed guns are still great enough to keep the things confined to tinkerers and well-off gun hobbyists, the sort of people who already build their own custom flintlocks or hand cannons. As Kyle Mizokami points out at Popular Mechanics, you really can't simply print out a gun on the public library's printer. You need a pretty high-end printer, costing into the thousands of dollars, and the materials are iffy even now. Not that any gun enthusiasts are likely to be put off by someone's flawed experiment blowing up in their face, because only other people do fatally dumb things with firearms.

Even without 3-D printers or plastic, it's already possible for people who know how to use metalworking tools to buy commercially available parts and build guns. Mizokami built an AR-15 in his kitchen, using a legal, partly-finished receiver -- the part that makes it shoot -- to show it's possible. Federal regulations allow people to buy receivers that are 80 percent built already, then finish the rest of the metalwork themselves. But that's not where our gun problems come from, at least, not yet, because as Mizokami points out in the Popular Mechanics piece,

3D printing gun parts is the most complicated way for a criminal to get his hands on a firearm, after stealing a gun from a legal gun owner, buying a gun on the black market, and finishing an 80 percent receiver.

For the moment, don't expect any serious attempts to block the wider distribution of printable gun plans, even though Donald Trump made concerned gurgling sounds on Twitter yesterday.

We're sure his friends at the NRA will explain to him why this is really all about freedom. As for the rest of us, while the possibility of 3D guns proliferating is definitely something to worry about (Senate Dems have introduced a bill banning online distribution of gun plans, which the GOP quickly blocked) we're frankly a lot more concerned about the 270 million to 310 million guns already in circulation, whose Responsible Owners regularly make it clear they can barely handle a gun someone else already made, let alone trying to build one themselves.

See? Reassuring!

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[Vox / CNN / NPR / CNN / Popular Mechanics / War Is Boring / Image by Justin Pickard on Flickr, Creative Commons license 2.0]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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