Guns produced with 3D printers pose a public safety risk that's beyond the ability of regulators to control it, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security bulletin to law enforcement agencies warned this week.
"Significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printer files for firearms components, and difficulty regulating file sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns," the bulletin obtained by Fox News stated.
DHS did not respond to a request by TechHive for a copy of the bulletin.
The document specifically mentions 3D printer files used to create a handgun called "The Liberator" and posted to the Internet by Defense Distributed, a nonprofit company started by University of Texas law student Cody R. Wilson.
Because the gun is largely made of plastic, the DHS is concerned it will evade detection by metal detectors used to screen out firearms at a number of venues, including stadiums and public buildings.
Earlier this month, Wilson posted the files for the gun at the Defense Distributed website but took them down after being ordered to do so by the U.S. State Department. However, the files have been copied and posted to other locations on the Web outside the reach of U.S. authorities.
Wilson called the bulletin "a piece of propaganda."
"It's full of common tropes about how dangerous guns are," he told TechHive.
The bulletin doesn't recognize the current situation in America,according to Wilson. Guns can be produced in the home legally, with or without a 3D printer. "That's been true for hundreds of years," he said.
"The only thing we're doing here is creating a gun that can be completely plastic, which is possible for you to make without a 3D printer," Wilson added.
The notoriety of The Liberator induced a state legislator in California to propose a law banning the making of guns on 3D printers, a proposal that Wilson finds dubious.
"They're saying it's OK to make a homemade gun on a mill or a lathe or to stamp a gun or assemble a gun from a kit, but don't use a 3D printer," he said. "That's insane."
Too much should not be read into the DHS document, added Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, which closely follows 3D printing of guns issues.
There's a big difference, he continued, between a discussion in an internal document in DHS where someone takes a position that distribution of guns through 3D printers can't be stopped and the agency taking a formal position that they can't do it.
However, the document is encouraging. "It suggests that there are people in DHS looking at this realistically," he told TechHive.
"It's fine that there's a memo in DHS talking about the concerns they have with 3D printed guns," he added, "but I would hope that the people who are doing that analysis also understand the current state of affairs in the United States in terms of the personal manufacturing of firearms."