With new technology come new products, new opportunities, and—unfortunately—new problems.  Few technologies pose quite the excitement, and potential for legal complication, as 3D printing.  3D printing, a technique that manufactures goods using thin layers of plastic based on written computer programs, has the potential to revolutionizeevery major industry in the world.  However, as Yoshitomo Imura of Japan recently discovered, not all industries are fair game.

Back in May of 2014, the Japanese government—notorious for its strict gun laws—arrested Imura for the 3D printing and subsequent shooting of a Zig Zag revolver.  The government discovered Imura’s antics through his own YouTube video, which depicts him firing his 3D printed guns.  Likely seeking to make an example out of Imura, the Japanese court handed down a stiff two-year sentence for his possession of the guns.  As Presiding Judge Koji Inaba made clear, “it is an offense to make our country’s strict gun controls into a dead letter.”

Before his arrest, Imura implored US citizens on his YouTube page to print their own guns, even stating, “The right person should survive even if weak.  A gun makes power equal!” Imura’s situation brings to mind one of the most hotly contested issues in America, especially of late: gun control laws.  As 3D printing continues to proliferate and legal implications arise, US courts may look to those of sister countries in their formation of applicable penalties.

And, while the courts fight their battle, Congress seeks to strike a balance between upholding what many consider a given right and the safety of those they represent.  This past December, Congress extended the Undetectable Firearms Act, which requires guns to contain a “minimum amount of metal parts that can be picked up detectors and x-ray machines.” However, loopholes in the law exist, including the ability to manufacture plastic guns with removable metal pieces.  This could allow, for example, one seeking to bypass airport security with a 3D printed plastic gun to simply remove the metal portions before coming into contact with TSA.

Congressman Steve Israel of New York has recently introduced the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, which hopes to close these loopholes.  The Act requires portions of a handgun to include non-removable metal, eliminating the opportunity for even the most wary of criminals to get 3D printed guns past security.  While this would not make 3D printing guns impossible, the deterrent effect would hopefully inhibit many from carrying or transacting in such items.  Whether the Modernization Act is passed, the bill brings 3D printing guns to the attention of Congress and millions of Americans.  As we enter a new age of technology and continue to discover its liberating opportunities, we must still be aware of the legal ramifications posed by these new toys.


Jackson Sattell

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One Response to Missing Ink: Connecting 3D Printed Gun Penalties and American Law

  1. William Roberts says:

    With regard to 3D printing, I have always felt like once it becomes cheaper and more mainstream, pandora’s box will be opened. I think the fears that myself and many others share are because a potential unease with one’s ability to create a gun within the comfort of his or her own home on a urge. However, these fears may be more fact than fiction. If one wants to go get a gun, one can be made with common household items and an internet search, or one could easily in some states go pick one up at the local gun store without a permit.