Local law enforcement agencies and other community services are weighing the possibility of 3D-printable firearms as blueprints for their creation have made their way on to the internet and into national headlines. This comes as an Austin-based company halted plans Tuesday to release additional blueprints amid a temporary restraining order and lawsuits in multiple states.
Locally, multiple law enforcement agencies said this is new territory that has not fully been discussed but expect to in the coming days.
“We don’t have a lot of information on this,” Sherman Police Lt. John Kennemer said. “It isn’t something that we have discussed at length.”
Kennemer said the topic of 3D printing — a relatively new technology that allows for the fabrication of objects using electronic plans and a plastic resin — is something he has not read a lot of research on.
The topic of printable firearms first made news in 2013 when Austin-based Defense Distributed, an organization that develops digital firearm blueprints and files, released plans for the Liberator — the world’s first completely 3D-printed gun. However, the plans were pulled days later after the U.S. Department of State demanded that they be removed amid citing a law prohibiting the export of plans related to weapons technology.
This led to a 2015 lawsuit by Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation that was ultimately settled earlier this year. While plans for some firearms were initially released Friday, a federal judge in Washington issued an order to stop the release of additional files pending lawsuits by multiple states.
Similar to Sherman, Denison Police Lt. Paul Neumann said the talk of plastic firearms was new territory that he did not know a lot about, and something that the police department had not discussed to his knowledge.
“There are going to be a significant number of regulations on who can produce and sell one,” Newman said regarding the 3D-printed weapons. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ website says a license is not required to make a firearm solely for personal use.
Given the materials, he said he does see some cause for concern as the material would likely be untraceable through most metal detection technology. This could be in issue for organizations including local schools and the Transportation Security Administration, he said.
“You are talking about defeating metal detectors; that is what worries me,” he said.
The technology that could be used to manufacture firearms has become an increasingly common addition to libraries across the country. The Denison Public Library first added a MakerBot Mini 3D printer to its services about a year ago. Through a donation by Lindsay Glass, the library plans to add two additional PolyPrinter 3D machines in the coming weeks, Denison Public Library Director Kimberly Bowen said in an email Wednesday.
Despite the recent debate, Bowen said she is not concerned that someone could manufacture a weapon using the technology at the library as it has strict rules in place, and staff has discretion over what can be printed.
“Libraries are more interested in promoting the beneficial uses of 3D printers such as printing prosthetic devices for children or exploring the creativity of new technology through design and implementation,” she said. “There are great impact stories where doctors have 3D printed organs to determine the best course of surgery for patients.
Patrons have mostly made small items, including trinkets, bookmarks and fidget spinners.
John Hayden, director of the Bonham Public Library, said he added two 3D printers to the library as one of his first acts as the new library director about 18 months ago. While the technology has been used to make small statues and other trinkets, Hayden said the largest project was to create a knitting loom over the course of several weeks.
Hayden said he doesn’t have concern about the topic as he has never been asked about it, and library staff have discretion on the projects.
“I still think you have to be careful with that sort of thing, that’s my personal opinion,” he said.
With current printers, Hayden said the largest limitation is not on the size of the object, but more on the complexity, noting that something like a rose would be difficult given the small details of the flower.
Grayson College Computer-aided Drafting and Design Technology Program Director Debra Boren said she has had talks with her students about the possibility of printed firearms but said the conversations mostly happened years ago when the technology was still relatively new. At the time, she said the plans were mostly for the parts and did not encompass the whole gun.
Boren said the plans currently being discussed are not unique, and many people with CAD drafting experience could make similar plans on their own. She said the main point of concern that is facing people now mainly seems to be centered on the accessibility.
However, she said she does not feel that this is a big issue, and the initial plans were made available and downloaded nearly five years ago, but have not lead to a large-scale proliferation of firearms.
Boren also noted that the original guns had their limitations and were only useful for a few shots before they were rendered inoperable. Additionally, accuracy was an issue, she said.
She said that her classroom was equipped with the technology, but said any designs that go to the machine must first pass her desk and get approval.