A bill to ban computer-aided design (CAD) gun file sharing could be voted on in the United States Senate any day.
The bill reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person to intentionally distribute, over the internet or by means of the World Wide Web, digital instructions in the form of Computer Aided Design files or other code that can automatically program a 3-dimensional printer or similar device to produce a firearm or complete a firearm from an unfinished frame or receiver.”
Senate Bill 1819 is known as the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act and was introduced by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and co-sponsored by 28 other Democrats, including Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and the late Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). It also has support from most of the other Democrats in the Senate.
“Let me be clear: We aren’t just talking about water pistols here,” said Co-sponsor Senate Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY). “We’re talking about real, fully operational semi-automatic firearms like AR-15 rifles and Beretta M9 handguns. Because many of the 3D printed guns are made of plastic, they can bypass metal detectors commonly used at…secure public areas. People are going into these public spaces and using these ghost guns to commit crimes, and law enforcement is finding it more and more difficult to stop them.”
The bill will prevent the sharing of gun CAD, which is hosted on sites such as Defense Distributed’s Def CAD website. The CAD files let anyone with a 3D printer print a firearm receiver. The affordability of 3D Printers that can be purchased for as little as a few hundred dollars has led to an explosion of DIY gun builders that design and print firearms. The 3D print revolution has made gun laws obsolete.
The bill cites the lack of serial numbers on 3D-printed firearms as one reason the Democrats believe that this proposed law is necessary. Federal law does not require homemade guns to have serial numbers. Anti-gun politicians in Congress have not been able to muster the support to change the law to require serial numbers for privately manufactured firearms (PFM).
Due to the lack of action in Congress, President Joe Biden ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to issue a rule banning 80% kits and changed the classification of unfinished frames to be considered firearms. The ATF rule change did not address the 3D printing of guns.
Some states have proposed radical laws to try to cut down on the printing of firearms. New York has proposed a law that would require background checks to buy a 3D printer. Anyone the government prohibits from owning firearms would also be prevented from acquiring a 3D printer.
The proposed federal law raises constitutional questions beyond just the Second Amendment. Many believe that computer code is protected speech, and this law would run afoul of the First Amendment. Many books and resources exist that teach people how to make drugs and bombs, like the Anarchist Cookbook. Some in the gun community reason if that is protected by freedom of speech, then computer code that allows someone to make a gun must also be covered by the First Amendment.
A companion bill in the House of Representatives is currently in the House Judiciary. The House bill is expected to fail due to a lack of support from Republicans. It is doubtful that the Senate bill will have enough votes for a supermajority, but the Democrats have been able to pressure the Republicans into passing anti-gun bills such as the Bi-Partisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA).
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. He has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. Mr. Crump lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.