New York to Regulate 3D Printers to Combat Ghost Guns

New York has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, but lawmakers in the Empire State now have sought to take it to a new extreme by requiring background checks to purchase and/or own a 3D printer. It has been described as an attempt to close an “increasingly popular loophole” where convicted felons who would otherwise be prohibited from legally buying a firearm can instead print individual components and make their own untraceable “ghost gun.”

A recently introduced bill, authored by state senator Jenifer Rajkumar, calls for a criminal background check to purchase an additive manufacturing device — aka 3D printer. AB A8132 would require a criminal history background check for anyone attempting to purchase a printer capable of fabricating a firearm.

DD-Liberator Pistol
The Liberator, a 3D-printable single-shot handgun, was the first printable firearm design made widely available online in 2013. It isn’t exactly a Glock! Image: Public Domain

Currently, four states including Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, have banned 3D printing of firearm parts, while California requires that 3D-printed firearms be serialized and detectable. However, if passed, New York would be the first state to actually require a background check to purchase a 3D printer, while the law would also prohibit the sale of such items to anyone with a criminal history that disqualifies them from owning a firearm.

Yet, as the New York bill is currently written, it wouldn’t clarify what models or makes of 3D printers would be required to undergo a background check. The bill simply defines a three-dimensional printer as a “device capable of producing a three-dimensional object from a digital model.”

“Three-dimensionally printed firearms, a type of untraceable ghost gun, can be built by anyone using a $150 three-dimensional printer,” Rajkumar wrote in her memorandum explaining the bill. “This bill will require a background check so that three-dimensional printed firearms do not get in the wrong hands.”

The legislation is currently in the committee assembly phase.

Not the NICS

The background check would not be conducted by the FBI, which runs the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Instead, under the proposed legislation, 3D printer retailers would need to request a background check from New York’s criminal justice services when a customer attempts to purchase a 3D printer.

Currently, the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) provides a New York Statewide criminal history record search (CHRS) for a fee of $95.00. The pending bill doesn’t lay out who would be responsible for the fee, but it likely would fall to the consumer – and could thus greatly increase the cost of a 3D printer.

The 3D Printer Fight

This is not the first suggested legislation that seeks to address gun violence by targeting 3D printers in the Empire State. In June, the Manhattan District Attorney and state legislators introduced a separate bill that called for outlawing the manufacture of 3D-printed guns and gun parts. The same bill would also make it a “class A misdemeanor to share, sell, or distribute files containing blueprints for 3D-printed firearms components.”

3D Printer
A printer such as this one from ANYCUBIC can be purchased for under $200 from Amazon, but it is unclear if it really could print any firearms components. Image: Amazon

“Technology has made it possible for anyone with a few hundred dollars to create dangerous weapons and firearms in the comfort of their own home,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in June. “At a time when gun control measures are being eroded around the country, New York must remain a leader in enacting the most comprehensive anti-gun legislation possible.”

Critics Cry Foul

The news of the attempt to regulate 3D printers comes as videos have circulated showing how Hamas terrorists in Gaza have literally dug up water pipes to use the tubes to build missiles. That demonstrates that with a little skill and insight, rudimentary items can be transformed into truly dangerous weapons.

Video: Gaza Water Pipes Turn Into Hamas’s Rockets


For the same reason, critics suggest that the New York lawmakers are trying to solve a problem with unnecessary regulation.

“This is an overreaction,” explained technology industry analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.

“Yes, you have been able to 3D print operational firearms for some time using metal sintering, but the equipment is wicked expensive and the cost of the gun is in the $10K range,” Enderle told The Mag Life. “Your average 3D printer doesn’t create products with the strength that a gun needs to operate safely. HP had a 3D plastic printer that might be able to do this but it too is very expensive and the result wouldn’t be safe.”

The New York bill also fails to address that there are other methods to produce firearms, including with a CNC machine. While the cost could be prohibitive for most individuals, a criminal enterprise wouldn’t be deterred.

“To my knowledge, the vast majority of ghost gun parts are created via CNC machines, not 3D printers,” added Enderle.

Moreover, while it is possible to 3D print gun parts such as the magazine or the handle, printing the most important parts including the chamber or the barrel would be a challenge to say the least.

The question then is whether there is a concern that cheap printers could actually be employed to print 3D firearms in the future. The answer isn’t really a simple one, yet the lawmakers aren’t addressing the problem accordingly. Already modern color photocopiers and printers have software that prevents anyone from copying/printing currency.

“Eventually, this technology will improve, and you may want to require some kind of water-marking technology so you could trace what was created back to the user, but the technology just isn’t there yet,” said Enderle. “So I doubt this will have any impact on ghost guns – what it will do is badly damage the still small 3D printer market. This is a pointless overreaction from people who don’t understand the technology.”

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based freelance writer who regularly covers firearms related topics and military history. As a reporter, his work has appeared in dozens of magazines, newspapers, and websites. Among those are Homeland Security Today, Armchair General, Military Heritage, Mag Life, Newsweek, The Federalist, AmmoLand, Breach-Bang-Clear, Newsweek, RECOILweb, Wired, and many others. He has collected military small arms and military helmets most of his life, and just recently navigated his first NFA transfer to buy his first machine gun. He is co-author of the book A Gallery of Military Headdress, which was published in February 2019. It is his third book on the topic of military hats and helmets.

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