Laws must be ready to target 3D-printed guns
With a US businessman ready to put weapon blueprints online, the Hong Kong government and others with tight controls on firearms have to be prepared
Gun ownership in Hong Kong, as in most parts of the world, is tightly controlled. Possession without a licence carries harsh penalties, but a tussle under way in the United States over the right of a firearms advocate to publish on his website the software to produce an ammunition-ready plastic pistol using a 3D printer highlights the challenges ahead. With the suppression of technology increasingly difficult, the implications have to be considered.
A US district judge has forced entrepreneur Cody Wilson to put on hold plans to release the blueprints, which had been given the go-ahead under the gun-friendly administration of President Donald Trump. Wilson, who claims to have made the world’s first 3D-printed firearm, briefly distributed the software in 2013 before authorities stepped in; he has since been campaigning for the right and has challenged the latest ruling. Guns are readily available in the US and the political strength of the National Rifle Association ensures state and federal regulations on ownership are weak, despite the deaths of more than 10,000 people each year in homicide-related shootings. What worries officials about 3D-printed firearms is that they can be easily made by anyone with access to the technology, are invisible to metal detectors and not having serial numbers, are untraceable.
There are already websites hosting 3D printer designs for weapons, but the printers are expensive and the quality of printed products is, for now, poor. Technology over time will change that, though, making the idea of plastic guns increasingly attractive to criminals and terrorists. Governments with tight controls on guns and ammunition, among them Hong Kong, Japan and Britain, have to be prepared. Technology and its increasing availability does not make governments helpless. Stepping up the enforcement of laws is one solution; Hong Kong police have a good record, seizing firearms three times this year. But one of the guns impounded was home-made and a deadly shooting in Quarry Bay last month involved a mysteriously obtained weapon. The likelihood of high-quality 3D-printed guns will necessitate governments enhancing surveillance of the streets and internet and, if practicable, requiring makers of printers to install design-blocking software in products.