3D printer purchases could require background checks under proposed law

Bill in New York aims to stop spread of ghost guns, but fails to address existing kit or private sales

A bill introduced in the New York state assembly last week aims to combat the spread of 3D printed "ghost guns" by requiring a criminal background check for anyone buying a 3D printer.

The bill, A8132, was introduced by state senator Jenifer Rajkumar last week, and would require a background check for any 3D printer sold in the state of New York that's capable of printing a firearm or components for them, such as auto sears that turn semi-automatic weapons into full-auto machine guns, receivers, and the like. 

Ghost guns are any firearm that's been manufactured using 3D printing, or assembled from a kit, which don't contain serial numbers and are sold without a background check. 3D printers aren't necessary to produce a ghost gun, but they're definitely making them more accessible. 

Rajkumar argued in a memorandum released alongside the bill that 3D printers let criminals create untraceable firearms for less than $200. 

"Three-dimensional printed guns are growing more prevalent each year. There were 100 taken off the streets of New York City in 2019. That number skyrocketed to 637 in 2022," Rajkumar said. "Concurrently, ghost gun shootings have risen 1,000 percent across the nation." 

Rajkumar isn't pulling those statistics out of thin air, either, though her numbers don't necessarily match up to police reports. According to the New York Police Department, there's been a consistent 60 percent increase in ghost gun seizures for the past two years in a row, but the NYPD said it only seized 463 of the illicit firearms in 2022.

That said, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) noted [PDF] a 1,083 percent increase in "privately made firearms," (PMFs) which includes those produced using a 3D printer, between 2017 and 2021, when law enforcement recovered 19,273 PMFs. 

Will barebones bill get backing?

As well-intentioned as Rajkumar's bill is, there's a lot missing from it that might leave it dead in the assembly's Codes committee it's been referred to. 

The bill mentions restrictions only on 3D printers capable of producing firearms or components thereof, yet doesn't draw a distinction between 3D printers able to print firearms/components and those not able to. The bill only defines 3D printers as "a computer or computer-driven machine or device capable of producing a three-dimensional object from a digital model, which could easily be applied to CNC machines, lathes and mills used in commercial and industrial applications. 

The bill also makes no mention of what would be done with the countless 3D printers already sold in the state of New York, or how it would enforce background checks when 3D printers are sold privately. No mention is made of enforcement for 3D printers bought out of state, nor are 3D printer materials like filaments mentioned in the bill. 

We asked Rajkumar for some explanation, but haven't heard back. 

This isn't the only bill regulating 3D printed firearms currently waiting for a committee decision in New York, either. A pair of bills introduced in the New York legislature in May would add 3D printed firearms and components to existing laws that restrict the manufacture of restricted weapons like machine guns, assault weapons, large-capacity ammo feeders and disguised firearms. Both the senate and assembly versions of the bill have been sitting in their respective code committees since they were introduced. 

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg expressed support for the bills introduced in May. We asked his office about Rajkumar's 3D printing proposal, but didn't receive a response. 

Laws restricting ghost guns at the federal level have taken a similar tack to the May bills, focusing on production of ghost guns and firearm components without targeting 3D printers themselves. 

The Biden administration has been pushing hard in support of an ATF rule introduced last year that changed the federal definition of a firearm to include components, meaning gun sellers and anyone 3D printing firearms or components would be required to add serial numbers. Firearms sellers would have to make a record of the serial numbers in their inventory and permanently maintain records of any such components to aid in traceability. 

A Texas court vacated the ATF rule in July on the grounds the ATF had overstepped its authority, but the US Supreme Court overruled the Texas judge in August, allowing enforcement of the rule to stand during appeals. 

The same judge, Reed O'Conner of the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, filed a second injunction against the ATF rule in September to allow a pair of firearms manufacturers (including Defense Distributed) to sell so-called "buy build shoot" firearm kits without requiring a background check. 

The Supreme Court overturned O'Connor's latest injunction yesterday, again barring the manufacturers from selling the kits until appeals are decided. ®

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