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Feds Worried About 3D-Printed Guns

Plastics Business

As 3D printing becomes more readily available, federal authorities are worried the technology could be used to create undetectable weapons. Congress passed the Undetectable Firearms Act in 1988 and renewed it in 2003, but the law is set to expire next week. Now lawmakers are scrambling to extend the law that ensures emerging technology – useful in the manufacturing sector – isnít used to create unreliable, undetectable weapons.

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) are looking to extend the law, which will expire Dec. 9, warning that 3D printing could make such weapons widely accessible. They also are seeking an amendment to require that metal has to be permanently attached to the gun, closing what they call a loophole that would allow removable metal parts. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) also has introduced legislation on the issue. The House on Tuesday passed a bill to extend a law for another decade.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives produced its own Lulz Liberator pistols. The guns, which were made of plastic, were produced using a 3D printer and blueprints made available online earlier this year. During testing, one version of the gun exploded (see video).

Schumer told The Associated Press, "3D printers are a miraculous technology that have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, but we need to make sure they are not being used to make deadly, undetectable weapons."

Just last week, the city of Philadelphia, PA, became the first city in the US to ban the use of 3D-printed guns. The city council voted unanimously to pass a bill banning the practice, which has spawned weapons like the Liberator. Philadelphia, according to FBI crime statistics, ranks among the most violent cities in the country. It reported 331 murders in 2012.

According to a Huffington Post article, "The design of the Liberator includes a block of metal that technically makes it legal under the Undetectable Firearms Act, which requires that a certain amount of metal be included in a weapon so it is detectable. But the metal plays no role in the weapon's function and could be easily removed."

ATF testing indicated the weapon isn't quite as powerful as a traditional pistol, but projectiles could "penetrate several inches of flesh and the human skull," the HuffPo story said. The material used to create the gun also played a large role in its ability to function properly. "The ATF produced several versions of the weapon, some using plastic produced by the company Visijet and others using acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic material. The Visijet version actually exploded during the test."