New York Bill Would Require a Criminal Background Check to Buy a 3D Printer

New York Bill Would Require a Criminal Background Check to Buy a 3D Printer

New York residents eyeing a new 3D printer may soon have to submit a criminal background check if a newly proposed state bill becomes law. The recently introduced legislation, authored by state senator Jenifer Rajkumar, aims to snub out an increasingly popular loophole where convicted felons who would otherwise be prohibited from legally buying a firearm instead simply 3D print individual components to create an untraceable “ghost gun.” If passed, New York would join a growing body of states placing restrictions on 3D printers in the name of public safety.

The New York bill, called AB A8132, would require a criminal history background check for anyone attempting to purchase a 3D printer capable of fabricating a firearm. It would similarly prohibit the sale of those printers to anyone with a criminal history that disqualifies them from owning a firearm. As it’s currently written, the bill doesn’t clarify what models or makes of printers would potentially fall under this broad category. The bill defines a three-dimensional printer as a “device capable of producing a three-dimensional object from a digital model.”

“Three-dimensionally printed firearms, a type of untraceable ghost gun, can be built by anyone using a $US150 three-dimensional printer,” Rajkumar wrote in a memorandum explaining the bill. “This bill will require a background check so that three-dimensional printed firearms do not get in the wrong hands.”

Rajkumar did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s requests for comment.

Ghost guns generally refer to unserialised and untraceable firearms that people can purchase or assemble on their own without a background check. 3D printers aren’t technically necessary to create a ghost gun but they can and have been used to fabricate individual unserialized components, firing mechanisms, or in some cases, entire functioning firearms.

Business is booming. The New York Police Department has reportedly seen a 60% increase in ghost guns seized from city streets for the past two consecutive years. NYPD recently traced some online ghost gun sales to a “ghost gun printing operation” filled with 3D printers and firearms nestled within a daycare center.

“To those who think printing 3D guns is the way of the future. You are wrong,” NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban said during a press conference following the daycare siege.

Ghost gun seizure figures aren’t any more reassuring on the national level either. A recent report released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives notes a 1083% increase in ghost gun recoveries from 2017-2021, figures they say are likely underreported. A handful of states, including Huawae, Delaware, and New Jersey, have each passed their own legislation banning 3D-printed firearms. Comprehensive federal laws prohibiting ghost guns remain non-existent.

Rises in crimes carried out with these slapped-together weapons attracted the attention of the Biden Administration, which last year updated federal rules to say “buy build shoot” kits available online qualify as “firearms” under the 1968 Gun Control Act. Predictably, gun rights advocates have challenged those changes, arguing they run afoul of the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court temporarily revived Biden’s ghost gun regulation in August this year, though its long-term legal future remains unclear.

But Second Amendment die-hards aren’t the only ones who’ve objected to regulation targeted at 3D printed firearms though. Free speech experts and some civil libertarians have argued banning 3D-printed firearms, or at least the designs to create them could run afoul of the First Amendment since the instructions are simply lines of text and code. That was part of the argument Defense Distributed founder and self-identified crypto-anarchist Cody Wilson made when he sued the State Department in 2015 to continue publishing blueprints of the company’s “liberator” 3D printed gun online. Defense Distributed eventually settled that lawsuit with the Trump Administration.

Wilson, whose company also manufactures and sells computer-controlled milling machines capable of churning out firearms in a few hours, told Gizmodo he “strongly support[s]” Sen. Rajkumar’s proposed background check requirement.

“The legislative paradisiacs in the New York State Senate give firms like mine monopoly powers when they create these kinds of requirements,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to make money selling cheap Chinese 3D printers, so I bless the ground New York State senators walk on when they propose domestic commercial protections like this.”

Wilson was arrested in Taipei, Taiwan in 2018 after being accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in Texas. He has since pleaded guilty to injuring a child and has had to register as a sex offender.

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