In January 2014, California Senator Kevin de Leon introduced Senate Bill 808, a bill intended to regulate the manufacturing of homemade or 3D printed firearms otherwise known as “ghost guns” to the California State Senate. Senator de Leon proposed that 3D printed guns, which can be made at home and possess no serial numbers, are a danger to society unless they are traceable.
De Leon’s argument was that criminals or people with bad intent could manufacture these guns without undergoing the necessary background checks usually required to obtain a legal firearm. Because criminals always go through background checks before they get their guns.
SB 808 was eventually approved by the Senate in a narrow vote and passed through to the Assembly. This weekend, after months of debate, the bill was officially passed through to the next step of the US legislature system and given to California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown can either now sign the bill into law or veto it.
If approved by Governor Jerry Brown, the bill will lawfully require anyone intending to 3D print a gun to first submit a request to the Department of Justice (DOJ). If the request is approved the DOJ will provide a serial number that must then be engraved onto the gun as a means of traceability. Essentially the bill will make it illegal to manufacture a gun without obtaining prior permission.
Flaws in logic
As pointed out by gun rights activists and other debaters since the introduction of the bill in January, there is a basic discrepancy between people the new law would directly impact and the people Senator de Leon is trying to impact.
“Gun parts can be obtained online or now with 3D printers made at home, leaving no way for law enforcement to ensure that prohibited individuals are not making ghost guns on their own,” said Senator de Leon in January. “No one knows they exist and there is no way to know if criminals are circumventing firearms laws by making these guns.”
The problem with this logic is that the majority of homicides and shootings are already committed with illegally obtained and unregistered guns. The following excerpt from a Forbes article refers to a study conducted by the DOJ itself:
According to surveys DOJ conducted of state prison inmates during 2004 (the most recent year of data available), only two percent who owned a gun at the time of their offense bought it at either a gun show or flea market. About 10 percent said they purchased their gun from a retail shop or pawnshop, 37 percent obtained it from family or friends, and another 40 percent obtained it from an illegal source.
The DOJ’s own data shows that 77 percent of prison inmates in the study obtained guns either from illegal sources or from family and friends. In other words, the majority of guns used illegally were also obtained illegally. This data suggests it is easy for criminals to obtain a weapon without abiding by the lawful steps and required background checks. It is then also safe to assume that regulatory laws requiring registration of ownership of a firearm do not make criminals rush to register.
In other words, Senator de Leon, law enforcement cannot ensure prohibited individuals are not 3D printing their guns much in the same way they cannot ensure they are not obtaining ‘real’ guns illegally. You are right – there is no way to know if criminals are circumventing firearms laws by making these guns.
It seems plausible to assume that the only people who would be directly impacted by the law, i.e. those who will contact the DOJ for approval and engrave a serial number onto their homemade gun, are those who have no intent to use it for criminal purposes. Asking a criminal who wants to 3D print his own gun to submit an official request to the DOJ is like asking him to willingly undergo a background check before obtaining a regular gun. You can ask all you want.. but its not going to happen.