OffBeat

The latest plan to ban 3D printed guns makes about as much sense as the last one

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One of the great fears in the 3D printing community is that overeager politicians will use concerns over 3D printed guns to regulate 3D printers themselves.

That fear may soon be realized. State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) says he wants regulation that would track 3D printers and figure out what people are doing with them. This means measures like background checks and a system that would force printer owners to register their devices before they can use them.

The source of Yee’s concerns is, of course, the Liberator, the 3D-printed firearm Defense Distributed announced last week (and was forced to take from its website soon after).

“We must be proactive in seeking solutions to this new threat rather than wait for the inevitable tragedies this will make possible,” Yee said in a press release .

leland-yeeYee is no stranger to the gun debate. The state senator has been on the most outspoken critics of assault weapons, which he proposed legislation to ban last year. “It is extremely important that individuals in the state of California do not own assault weapons. I mean that is just so crystal clear — there is no debate, no discussion,” he told CBS San Francisco last May.

But while Yee’s attitudes toward assault weapons seems pretty well grounded, there are more than a few problems with his desire to regulate 3D printers. For one, while 3D printing is a relatively new technology, it doesn’t give bad guys any tools they didn’t already have access to. If you really want to create a gun in your garage, there are plenty of existing ways for you to do it that don’t require a 3D printer.

The other problem with Yee’s idea is that … well, it doesn’t make much sense. The 3D printer is closer to the personal computer than the AK-47, which makes forcing owners to register them seem excessive. (This assumes that the 3D printer can even be regulated, a notion that’s still up for debate.)

Even prominent anti-3D-printed gun advocate Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) didn’t go as far as to implicate 3D printers themselves in a recent letter. For him, it was all about the undetectable nature of the plastic firearms, not what created them. That, as Public Knowledge vice president Michael Weinberg pointed out, was a welcome sign that the 3D printed gun debate was maturing.

Fortunately for the 3D printing community, Yee says he isn’t quite sure how his regulation would work — which means that your 3D printer is safe, at least for now.