A federal judge temporarily stopped the release of blueprints to create untraceable 3D-printed plastic guns late Tuesday. In asking for the restraining order, part of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s reasoning was because 3D printers are commercially and widely available to the public.
And he’s right — to a point.
But what are the chances of somebody actually printing out a gun or gun parts from a 3D printer near you?
Gun experts have their doubts, saying it would be too much trouble for a criminal to go through. Workers at 3D printing sites in the area agree. They said the cost, materials, time and supervision over the printers would make it an unlikely venture.
“There have been plans for 3D printed guns sort of floating around the Internet since 2013,” said Nate Stone, program administrator of the ideaLAB at the Denver Public Library. “You’d have to be both really mad and really patient to want to print out a 3D printed gun.”
For Stone, it’s a low-level worry given ”the amount of time it would take to print something out” and the general availability of firearms in the United States.
- Planet Money Explains: The Man Behind 3D Printed Guns (via NPR.org)
The ideaLAB offers free 3D printing for up to two hours at the Central and Montbello library locations. Stone said only staff operate the printers and go over designs with people prior to printing. Some people have come in to print out dangerous items like knives, but the library has turned them away, per their no-weapons rules.
Arapahoe Libraries have a strict no-weapons policy at every location, including a no-weapons 3D printing policy. In the wake of the potential gun blueprint release, the libraries have been reviewing their policies to make sure they are “absolutely clear” to patrons, said Linda Speas, director of operations.
The owner of The Lab, a creative electronic space in Arvada with a laser cutter and 3D printer, also has a no-weapons policy and has stopped someone from making brass knuckles before. Don-John Kulish said making a gun from filament or the plastic material used in 3D printing wouldn’t be impossible, but wouldn’t be easy either.
“Three-D printing has a lot of misinformation out there. It’s not as amazing and game changing as everyone thinks. It’s more for like fun and prototyping stuff… you’re making something out of plastic.” he said. “It’s a very affordable hobby.”
Kulish bought a few of his 3D printers for under $200 and the filament is fairly inexpensive, too. He charges non-members at his lab 10 cents a cubic centimeter of material. He said he recently printed a 7 by 4 inch hollow figurine for $9.50.
But filament costs vary.
The UPS Store near 20th and Park avenues in Denver has much steeper printing prices. It is the only UPS location in Colorado with a 3D printer.
Shaleen Maier, assistant manager of the store, said it costs $25 to get a job started and an additional $25 for every cubic inch of material used. The maximum size allowed to print at the UPS store is 8 by 8 by 6 inches.
Most of the items she has seen come through the printer have been innocent — old plumbing parts and pencil holders.
Despite there being only a handful of people with public access to and familiarity with 3D printers, Maier thinks the technology is ahead of its time and should be regulated to some degree.
“I’m really shocked… There’s no age regulation or anything required. Really anybody could come in and print whatever they wanted,” she said. “No way, there’s no way we would allow something like that to happen.”