One of the most controversial topics when it comes to 3D printing are laws on undetectable firearms. And the debate gets even more controversial when we talk about digital arms control and free speech. Should Americans be allowed to say and share whatever they want online? What if that speech is a blueprint for a gun? The State Department says no.
In two recently issued statements, the State Department confirmed it plans to act as a “gatekeeper” for what data Americans can legally publish online regarding the digital fabrication of guns. Any technical data (which is vaguely defined) that would allow for the creation of weapons would require prior approval for online publication. And if you’re unsure what’s “technical data” the State Department says you should review the United State Munitions List, and if there’s still any doubt, you may request a commodity jurisdiction determination from the Department.
But who’s really going to do that?
The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act seeks to set forth regulations requiring that any firearm have at least one major component that is detectable by typical metal detectors. This would make it much more difficult to either remove the metal components to make the gun undetectable, while still being operable.
This legislation is (arguably) believed to have been inspired by recent security issues. Earlier this month, the US Department of Homeland Security conducted a series of tests, working with undercovers to sneak weapons, including 3D-printed guns, through TSA security checkpoints. The results? Pretty alarming. 67 out of 70 tests agents were successfully able to sneak banned items through checkpoints.
But the results are not that shocking. Conventional metal detectors would be useless against 3D-printed plastic guns, should they ever really materialize. These weapons would pose a real security concern, which is why Congress is fighting to make the weapons easier to trace.
Increased security is a good thing. So why are people upset?
Well, we may be upping security, but this isn’t just a firearms case, even though it deals with firearms. It’s a free speech case, too. Many argue the State Department is violating free speech by demanding prior approval of its printable gun file uploads. And just because information can be used for bad purpose doesn’t make it illegal to publish it.
The filing isn’t yet final, and the restrictions wouldn’t limit the publication, discussion or illustrations of guns, only “technical data” for fabricating arms. So, with that being said, let’s discuss the issue. Are 3D printed guns okay? Is the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act really a violation of free speech?