Letter: Ghost guns are legal | Opinion
Letter writer Daniel Eisenstein replied to a letter about “ghost guns” made by 3D printers.
Editor’s Note: This letter is in response to an earlier letter, “The Dangers of Ghost Guns”.
On March 29th, I gave a presentation on 3D printed firearms. In particular, I clarified some basic facts, cleared up some misunderstandings, discussed recent history and legal developments, explained some projects I was doing, and mentioned how a person could start out on their own. The letter “The Dangers of Ghost Guns” contains misunderstandings and logical problems and completely misses the points of the presentation.
A “ghost weapon” is nothing more than a creepy-sounding name used by gun control advocates to denote homemade firearms, whether legal or not. If you can legally own a particular weapon in most states, you can legally make that weapon. However, those who make their own firearms must follow certain rules: They must make sure they live in a state where making their own firearm is legal. The firearm they want to make is legal to own and they cannot sell or give away that weapon unless they are a licensed arms dealer.
The letter says: “Ghost rifles are not a harmless hobby. The technology of making unlicensed, undetectable firearms enables violent criminals, domestic abusers, arms dealers, and everyone else in the United States [to] Easily create a weapon frame without background checking. “
Can homemade firearms be misused? You could be, but this hysteria is out of place for two reasons. One of the reasons is that 3D printed firearms can be incredibly unreliable and take multiple iterations to get right. I had to go back to the drawing board multiple times after failing firearms I 3D printed, including an issue where one fell apart during use. The other reason is that there are many easier ways for criminals to get hold of a firearm.
“The Dangers of Ghost Guns” cites a report from Everytown for Gun Safety which claims “over the past decade, nearly 2,500 ghost guns have been linked to criminal activity in 102 federal cases.” A quick look at the federal court case statistics would show that these 102 federal cases are a drop in the ocean compared to the nearly one million federal criminal charges filed in the past decade. On the other hand, part of the presentation I gave cites a Justice Department poll.
The survey interviewed more than a quarter of a million detainees incarcerated on charges related to a firearm and the way they acquired their firearm. Whether it is an underground market, a straw buy, a legitimate purchase, or the theft of a firearm, there are far easier ways for criminals to obtain firearms. Virtually no criminals have made their own firearms. Making homemade firearms can be a harmless hobby, and so is the firearms enthusiast.
The letter goes on to say: “Many of these weapons were assault rifles or machine guns.” Assault-style firearms are only defined by cosmetic properties that have nothing to do with the lethality of a particular weapon. However, machine guns have been federally regulated since the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934, and the manufacture of new weapons for civilians has been prohibited since May 19, 1986. Not to mention, Iowa law prohibits them in the state with limited exceptions. They are illegal whether or not they are homemade and whether or not a 3D printer was involved.
The letter also states another misunderstanding: “3D-printed plastic pistols are undetectable by metal detectors.” Federal law requires all firearms to contain at least 3.7 ounces of stainless steel, enough for a metal detector to detect. The only weapon where this could be a problem would be a one-off 9mm pistol known as “The Liberator,” which is notorious for its explosion due to its plastic chamber and barrel. That being said, all of the 3D printable firearms I know already have at least that amount of metal in their design. Just because a 3D printer is involved doesn’t mean a firearm can dodge metal detectors.
The letter also called on the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau (ATF) to “regulate the unregulated sale of” unfinished “weapon components that can become a fully functional weapon in less than an hour.” Under federal law, the only piece of a firearm legally defined as a firearm is “the frame or receiver of such a weapon”.
That said, if you can get your hands on a firearm frame or receiver, you can easily purchase the rest of the parts and make a working firearm. If a piece of metal or plastic can’t act as a frame or receiver, it can’t. Some manufacturers sell incomplete frames or receivers so that people can finish. The person who completes the piece becomes the legal manufacturer of the weapon. In other words, reaching the legal minimum for making a firearm is not a high bar and only requires a few hand tools.
What exactly layers an unfinished frame or receiver depends on the interpretation by the ATF. If you thought about where that line was drawn, it would just start a game of cat and mouse. If an unfinished frame or receiver is flagged as too close to completion, all that manufacturers need to do is tweak their product so that they are no longer on the line. Unless we have to treat massive metal or plastic blocks as firearms, any movement of the ATF is ineffective.
My presentation was a year of research and experience and we planned to offer it about a month in advance as event approval was required to give a presentation to those not affiliated with Students for 2A. We decided to promote our event with a bulk email. After what happened in Atlanta, Georgia, I delayed the email for as long as I was allowed, according to the Student Activities Center bulk email approval form. After I received approval and sent the request to IT Services, the email was no longer in my hands. Given what happened in Boulder, Colorado, IT Services would have given us the opportunity to cancel the email.
However, we will not apologize for continuing our organization’s activities. This would contradict the main goal of our organization to train the best ambassadors for the second change. This also includes dealing with those who vehemently disagree with us. I had two goals with the presentation: I wanted to prove that I was able to make my own firearms and anyone else too. For anyone who thinks that homemade firearms should be illegal, you have a right to be heard, but I think you missed the point.
I made my own firearms to prove I can. If the law ever changes and I can no longer legally do so, I will respect the law. But gun control activists would be foolish to believe that restricting anyone’s ability to make their own firearms would prevent them from doing so. To date, homemade 3D printed firearms are legal in most circumstances and are unlikely to be used for criminal activity. They remain one of my favorite personal hobbies.
Daniel Eisenstein is a junior in Information Systems Management and Cybersecurity.