3D Guns In Australia

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Nine.com.au published an interesting article this week on 3D printed guns in Australia. The artile covers what is 3D printing, the history of 3D printed guns, the problems associated with 3D printed guns and should Australia ban them. 

This article is timely as a Sydney man who made replica guns with a 3D printer and advertised them online is facing possible jail time.

He's since pleaded guilty to charges including possessing a digital blueprint for the manufacture of firearms, manufacturing a pistol without a licence permit, and possessing an unauthorised pistol.

PhD researcher at the University of Adelaide Richard Matthews told 9News.com.au that 3D printing is not new. 

“It’s been around since about the 1980s,” he said.

“That’s when it first came out in an industrial sense and the cost back then was significant, to the point that only companies could really afford it.

“It first came out at a consumer level in 2009.... That’s when it became affordable.”

While the technology behind the 3D printing process is still evolving, Mr Matthews said  the general method used includes a type of ‘hot glue pointer’ that melts plastic into a three-dimensional shape.

That shape is determined by computer code, known as the weapon’s ‘blueprint’ and a 3D model prepared in digital programs and fed into the printer.

Those plans can also be distributed online across the world, free of any charge other than internet usage costs. 

The idea behind printing 3D plastic, functional guns was first introduced to the world with the release of Cody Wilson’s ‘Liberator’ pistol in 2013.

US gun activist Wilson is the founder of digital arms organisation Defense Distributed and has been the focus of intense government and legal scrutiny.

“He basically came up with this idea of making firearms accessible to everyone through the internet,” Mr Matthews said.

“Since 2013, he’s been continuously in and out of court fighting for this ideal.”

Despite their popularity, however, Mr Matthews said that the plastic printed weapons only present a limited danger to anyone else but the shooter.

“They’re a one-shot use weapon,” he said.

“It’ll explode. You’re putting an explosive charge, in a bullet, inside a barrel that’s made out of plastic and as soon as you shoot it, the gun itself is going to explode.

“As far as safety, I’m more concerned about the person using it than I would be the person in front of it.”

The problem with 3D printed guns 

“It’s an enabling technology. It enables firearms to get into the arms of people that wouldn’t otherwise have access to them,” he said.

“Basically people that should not have them - people that wouldn’t pass background checks.

“There are no controls, you can do it all. It’s digitally-exchanged information.”

He also said that, when it comes to the proliferation of the blueprints via the internet, governments and regulators are facing a losing battle in trying to control their spread.

What are the Australian laws and concerns?

In Australia, gun ownership has been heavily tightened. To own or possess a firearm, a person needs to have a licence and a “genuine reason” for holding it.

However, when it comes to 3D-printed guns the laws around the country are a little less concrete.

While it is illegal in every state and territory to manufacture a gun without an appropriate licence, each jurisdiction - apart from New South Wales - has no legislation specific to 3D-printed guns.

In 2015, the NSW Government passed an amendment to the state Firearms and Weapons Prohibition law that made it illegal to be in possession of the digital blueprint files used to 3D print guns.

Any person found in possession of the files also faces a maximum 14-year prison sentence if found guilty of the crime.

Interpretations of that law have since been broad, with many experts claiming that a person who may have wiped their own computer of the blueprints can still be considered “in possession” of them if they’re stored in an online ‘cloud’ system under their name.

“We’ve had adequate firearm control since the late 1990s and we understand that they are a tool to be used for a certain purpose in certain situations,” he said.

Last month however, police on the Sunshine Coast uncovered three fully-functional 3D-printed handguns during a raid. 

Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards said the guns were of high quality and it was a concern that such weapons, capable of being fired, could be created by a printer.

"They are pretty well made... we use police Glocks and to hold them and feel them, they're pretty good," he said.

"They are all polymer and all they needed was a pin and a spring-type assembly pushed into it to make it work. For all intents and purposes they would look like a gun."

Should Australia ban 3D-printed gun plans like the US?

Mr Matthews said that, while there should be a crackdown on printed weapons because “there is nothing stopping someone from getting a print from the States”, he disagrees with the need for regulatory movement against the 3D printing process being used to print other items.

“We do need to have this definition of a 3D blueprint in our legal system but I think we need to be careful about what we define as legal and not in the control of the free flowing of information,” he said.

“I think if you can say that you’ve got a bona fied reason to have in your possession a 3D model of a firearm, say you’re a gunsmith or you’re a researcher in this field, then it’s perfectly acceptable for you to have these firearms in your possession.

“However if you’re just a general member of the public with no reason to have them in your possession, then that’s when questions should start being asked.”

This topic is sure to keep popping up as the technology gets cheaper and cheaper. You can already buy 3D printers from Aldi. One thing that is certain is our technologically advanced children will be intrigued by this emerging and now cost-effective technology.

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