back to article 3D printer purchases could require background checks under proposed law

A bill introduced in the New York state assembly last week aims to combat the spread of 3D printed "ghost guns" by requiring a criminal background check for anyone buying a 3D printer. The bill, A8132, was introduced by state senator Jenifer Rajkumar last week, and would require a background check for any 3D printer sold in …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So... I might be anti gun, and from the UK, but is there a requirement to tell the US government when you buy a lathe or a CNC machine? (Both of which would probably be a better choice for manufacturing parts for firearms....)

    1. Jim Mitchell

      If you can afford a CNC machine, you can afford to have real customers for your machine shop.

      Anyways, the low end of the 3d printed firearm spectrum is the "auto-sear", basically altering the fire control mechanism of an already semi-auto weapon to be full-auto. They don't have take the abuse of the actual chamber/barrel, and in criminal usage, probably don't have to be expected to stand up to years of use and thus are ideal for cheap manufacturing, either here or in China.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        CNC benchtop milling machines aren't all that expensive (compared to a full on 6-axis Haas or something) and not the sole domain of machine shops.

    2. blackcat Silver badge

      In the 70s (maybe 80s?) there was a plan to require a license to own a mill or lathe in the UK for this very reason. Didn't happen cos it was stupid.

    3. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Average dealer would probably struggle to buy latte and would beat up the record store clerk for claiming there is no CNC machine band.

    4. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      I couldn't make gun parts in a machine shop (I did my EITB metal bashing course and I know how useless I am) but I could download a file and send it to a printer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You aren't the target audience either.

        Those download and print gun plans are for suckers and wing nuts anyway.

        The real "ghost gun" problem is that 90% of the parts to make most firearms weren't under controls, and the ones that were controlled are readily available as "ghost parts" where all the buyer had to do is drill a couple of holes and then put the thing together. That's underground dealers selling black market parts to people with few technical skills. Or just building the whole thing and telling the person to tell their friends they put it together themselves.

        Full plastic gun bodies are weak and unreliable when 3-d printed with filament or most of the UV cured plastics used in immersion printers. Most of the high end sintering printers that output actual metal objects are eye wateringly expensive, and you could rent a garage and fill it with actual machining tools and produce more illegal parts for less money. So other then tidbits like an autosear/bullet button that allow less technical users to mod their existing and previously legal firearms, most of what this bill is targeting is useless for stopping illegal arms.

        And a proper gunsmith or machinist worth their rating could probably build fully operational guns with hand tools and stock from the hardware store.

        So while I support the classification of gun parts to ensure they follow the same guidance as whole weapons, and things like serial numbers, the point is to go after bulk manufacturers and dealers on one hand and anyone caught with an off the books firearm on the other. Trying to micromanage a list of all possible tools that could be used for something nefarious will both fail spectacularly at preventing black market weapons but also in even keeping tabs on the tools. We need to stay focused on punishing illegal manufacturers and importers.

        Many jurisdictions tried to restrict access to lock picks for a long time, claiming that allowing sales to the public would cause a crime wave. Now you can literally buy them next day on Amazon, and most breaking and entering involves tools like a pry bar, bolt cutters, or a hammer. This bill probably wont pass, but it shouldn't either. Otherwise only criminals will have 3-d printers, right? :-)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    think of the children

    think of what THEY could print if only they had a chance.

  3. mostly average

    Do those numbers include...

    ...printed guns actually [successfully] discharged in a crime, or just the ones turned in for cash at police buy back events?

    Actually, now that I think about it, this could be retribution for that one time a guy sold a box of $0.75 3d printed guns at a police "no questions asked" gun buy back event for $200.00 apiece. The fuzz was not amused.

    1. Hans 1
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Do those numbers include...

      It is very dangerous to rip off the fuzz ....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        wax on, wax off


  4. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

    I wonder how many of these legislators have ever seen a 3D printer, let alone used one or even know how to use one.

    Proposed laws would be much more effective if the politicians had even a vague idea of what they were doing.

    See also: online safety bill, and the AI policy job that doesn't need any knowledge of AI.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Its performative virtue signaling to the base, the democratic equivalent of republicans banning books that mention the word "gay".

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      To be fair, very much every printer is 3D, except maybe the one that pissed off the road roller driver.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        ...or pissed off it's owner who then decided that a pickaxe and some exercise was the best way to handle an objectionable piece of hardware.

        Was... cathartic.

  5. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Where do you stop?

    If they regulate sales of 3D printers then opportunists would find a way to print 3D printers and sell them in the grey market.

    1. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

      Re: Where do you stop?

      You don't stop. You press on to ensure that most people don't have any useful technical knowledge whatsoever. Can't have the great unwashed making things can we? Particularly when they're things that politicians don't understand - which is pretty much everything.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Where do you stop?

        Indeed. We can't have the Hoi polloi acquiring the means of production.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where do you stop?

      Well, you stop when the population is unable to read, write and provide for themselves. Bonus points if you manage to get them to ditch personal transportation and switch to some form of energy that can't be easily stored.

      1. cyberdemon Silver badge

        Re: Where do you stop?

        So, stop using books and get kids hooked on YouTube and TikTok so they never learn to read or write, but ban videos that actually teach anything useful?

        We could also ban cash, shut down all domestic engineering industries, supply the populace with imported goods without local stock on a "just in time" model and turn everyone into "AI prompt engineers" who just extract bullshit from a machine in another country via the Internet, and "data cattle" who do nothing but feed the machine with new info.

        What could possibly go wrong?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Where do you stop?

          I would generally agree with your somewhat tongue in cheek description of reality, but I _do_ think you put too much emphasis on intentionality, i.e. looking for a cause while judging the effect. I think there's none, because that would require a level of global leadership (or 'elite') conspiracy, and conspiracies fail miserably. There's in human nature, too much chaos, disorder, stupidity, inability to predict all eventualities, to make conspiracies succeed.

          I might buy a conspiracy theory based on assumption that certain personal, but common, wishes and hopes of the leaderships / elites to keep ruling and keep those ruled ones in their place make them (subconsiously) do things that, ultimately, cause the effects you describe. But again, that would imply an existance of some will-driven force to oversee the whole process staying on track until end-go delivery - and that would be on a totally different level of improbability / weirdness.

          In short, I think what you describe is the resultant of human actions, but purely unintentional.

          1. blackcat Silver badge

            Re: Where do you stop?

            Have you read Fahrenheit 451?

            Beatty's description to Montag of how it all started is really quite interesting.


          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Where do you stop?

            There's no need for a global conspiracy, just common sense: if my subjects are unable to comprehend that there could be something better, they will vote for me each and every time.

            Hey, it worked just fine up until 1800, why can't we get it to work again?

          3. cyberdemon Silver badge
            Black Helicopters

            > conspiracies fail miserably.

            All of them? Are you sure? Have there not been several successful conspiracies throughout history, on this or even grander scales? The deposition of Charles I, revolutions, wars..

            Supposing a supergovernmental group as powerful as the WEF were behind a deliberate "plot" to make people more dependent on technology, are you so sure that they would necessarily be doomed to fail?

            Perhaps they wouldn't even consider it a "plot", just a Sensible Plan for the Good of all Things™️ ?


            Tbh i'm sick of the way that any criticism of The Powers That Be, automatically gets lumped in with "Wackjob Conspiracy Theories". I think stuff like "The vaccine has 5G microchips in it" and the rise of the flat-earth society is so ridiculous that it could even be deliberate counter-propaganda to allow the media to discredit anyone who questions the official rhetoric.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Where do you stop?

      "If they regulate sales of 3D printers then opportunists would find a way to print 3D printers and sell them in the grey market."

      Although not suitable for printing working guns (maybe a dangerous "one shot" as likely to blow the shooters hand off as actually work), wasn't 3D printing a copy of itself the big selling point of one of the 1st gen open source hobbyist 3D printers? RepRap or something like that? Just buy (or build!) the circuit boards and buy the heating nozzle.

  6. Roj Blake Silver badge

    The Irony Is...

    ...that the US will end up with tougher background checks to buy a 3D printer than to buy an actual gun.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: The Irony Is...

      Since there's no constitutional amendment for 3d printers, they possibly could, but they have so many uses I doubt they'd ever get those pushed through

  7. heyrick Silver badge

    Probably a dumb question, but...

    Don't 3D printers make stuff by dribbling hot plastic on top of other plastic layer by layer to build something?

    Is that creation then actually capable of handling the mechanical stresses of the gunpowder (mini) explosion to fire a bullet out of the end with enough force to do serious harm?

    I'm asking because in my younger years I made a potato cannon out of some plastic drainpipe, a large spud, and bits of firework. If I'd been holding the thing I probably wouldn't be here today, the plastic withstood neither the heat nor the pressure (amusingly the potato survived, being lightly cooked on one side). So I'm wondering if a 3D printer can actually make a viable gun, or if this is more a shouty-screamy as most politicians who want their 15 minutes of fame tend to be.

    1. blackcat Silver badge

      Re: Probably a dumb question, but...

      You are correct in terms of the 3D printers most people would buy. There are some firearm designs out there that try to get around the material limitations by making the barrel many times thicker than it would be if made in sensible material but they are still one shot, if that, devices.

      I doubt you could 3D print an auto sear with a desktop plastic printing machine. The forces are just too high.

      Now if you have a lot of money you can get a laser based printer that can print metal. You'd still need some other tools to give a suitable surface finish for things like the barrel so this again falls into the 'probably easier to make from chunks of metal' category.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Probably a dumb question, but...

        Full plastic guns are as dangerous to the person holding it as the one they are aiming at (possibly the same person, sadly). Plastic barrels are the pinnacle of said stupidity, as even a bad and unsafe design could save time and money by subbing it for crap from the hardware store, or for as long as they are unregulated, just buy a proper barrel online or out of someones trunk in a gun show parking lot.

        Even the top of the line SLS or other metal fabricating units that produce metal that may be suitable for (some) parts of a rocket motor aren't ideal for barrels or other high stress parts of even a medium caliber handgun. And for a fraction of the cost you could build a jig to machine them out of cheap and unregulated bar stock with power tools. Those high end metal "printers" can make a much more capable frame, receiver, or magazine that plastic though, albeit quite a bit more expensively than conventional manufacturing.

        I'd be more worried about people with drones these days.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Probably a dumb question, but...

      "Don't 3D printers make stuff by dribbling hot plastic on top of other plastic layer by layer to build something?"

      There are different type of 3D printers that use different methods and source materiels, including metals and even concrete. They are less likely to be in the hands of consumers, but not out of reach even now and, as with most technology, prices come down and capabilities go up. Wikipedia has a good summary of the various type and methods. Also, if you've been keeping up with El Regs space launch articles, surely you've come across mention of 3D printed rocket engines, although admittedly they are not the type of 3D printers found in Joe Blogs back room hobby shop :-) Yet!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Probably a dumb question, but...

      Broadly speaking, yes. If you want a gun barrel you would buy some steel piping, 3d print a mandril with a spiral shape, wrap on some copper wire and use electrochemical machining (salt in water) to etch the rifling pattern inside the barrel and expand the cylinder. You might use some metal sheet parts as reinforcement on contact surfaces then print a glass reinforced plastic frame. I looked it up, becasue I have an engineering background and up to handgun calibres it's quite easy to make functioning weapons.

      What's almost impossible is making functioning ammunition. Even in the US constitution there's nothing protecting the right to make and sell primers or cartridges (because those postdate the document).

  8. Neil 44

    Feeding the 2nd hand or grey market?

    Will sellers of second-hand kit (eg eBay or its advertisers) have to perform these background checks?

    Will the checks have to made by a seller in, say, New Jersey before they send a kit of parts for a 3D printer to an address in New York? Lots of people in that area do "inter-state" shopping often because of the variations in sales taxes...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The real reason for this is to make sure Americans buy their gun parts at top dollar from the big firearms companies rather than downloading free designs from the internet and printing them out.

  10. Frank Bitterlich

    This is quite possibly...

    ... the dumbest law proposal that I have heard of this year. "We're not able to regulate guns, so we're regulating tools. After all, you need tools to make gun parts."

    Next step is obviously requiring registration with a gov-issued ID for anybody downloading or buying slicer software, and outlawing Blender altogether. Oh, and maybe the sale of PLA filament should be regulated, too.

    Sometimes I think US politicians are intentionally acting stupid when trying to solve the rampant gun problem in their country, just like someone constantly intentionally dropping plates so they don't have to do the dishes any more.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't forget the hot glue sticks

      and maybe the round scissors and mint flavored paste sticks the give the short bus kids...

  11. lidgaca-2

    Todays's history lesson ...

    Try searching on El Reg for 'lewis page gun' ... for Lewis's old articles about the absurdity of 3d printed plastic guns.

    Come on back Lewis, El Reg needs you !

    -- Chris

  12. Gaberry Haminfton

    I am curious if I use this 3D Printer, is it applicable to most bore sight or there is a special requirement. I recently bought a bore sight. I am very curious about whether it is suitable for this 3D Printer.

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