Carter: 3-D ‘ghost’ guns a frightening reality of technology

Technological advancements can be a wonderful thing. My wife and I often marvel how much the smart phone has changed our lives in the past decade.

When we bought our first house in 2007, we relied heavily on our Realtor to find suitable listings for what we needed, then bought one of those large map books to figure out where they were when he gave us the addresses. We spent months looking at a ton of houses before we finally found the right one.


When we bought a new home last fall, while we still used the same Realtor (shout out to Nick Kellar at Atlas Realty, which recently opened its offices in downtown Westminster), we had already looked up a number of homes we were interested in through various real estate apps like Redfin and Trulia, then used GPS on our phones to drive to those neighborhoods, so we had a much more refined list when it was time to get serious, and the process went much faster.

On our recent vacation to the beach, it was amazing how frequently we relied on our phones to find reviews on places that were suitable to take our kids and get directions there. And, although we felt a little guilty for doing it, we were also able to divert their attention by streaming some cartoons on Netflix while we got our money’s worth out of an all-you-can-eat crab joint. (Trust me, this crab-loving, life-long Marylander can put a hurtin’ on those places.)

Technology has put all of the world’s information at our fingertips.

Of course, there are downfalls of technology that are downright terrifying. Cyberbullying on social media. Distracted driving. The ease with which our identities can be hacked. Having all of the world’s information at our fingertips.

To that latter point, there has been a lot of talk the past week or so about plans being circulated on the internet to make working firearms with 3-D printers.

Earlier this week, a federal judge in Seattle ordered a gun-rights organization to temporarily stop making blueprints for 3-D guns available online. But the battle between the government and Defense Distributed goes back a few years to 2013, when the Obama administration had forced Cody Wilson to stop publishing the 3-D gun blueprints on his website.

The State Department accused Wilson of exporting weapons without a license, a violation of the International Trade in Arms Regulations. Wilson sued the administration arguing he had First Amendment rights to publish the schematics.

When the Trump Administration took over, its Justice Department agreed to a settlement with Wilson, allowing him to publish his blueprints (it also paid him $40,000 for his legal costs). The blueprints went online July 27, before the judge ordered Defense Distributed to temporarily remove them Tuesday.

The fear is that 3-D printed plastic firearms wouldn’t be found by metal detectors and would be untraceable if used in a crime because there is no serial number. The ability to print them would allow individuals deemed too dangerous to own a firearm to skirt required background checks.

For those unfamiliar, 3-D printers allow you to “print” a 3-D plastic version of any item for which you have blueprints. The technology itself is pretty cool, and if you want to check it out, every branch of the Carroll County Public Library has a 3-D printer available for public use. You can learn more on the library’s website,

The library, as I suspect most places that offer public use of 3-D printers, has restrictions on what types of items can be made using its equipment. So, to be clear, no one could walk in off the street and print a firearm at the library.

Right now, a quality 3-D printer is quite expensive. Personal 3-D printers that can be had for a few hundred dollars probably wouldn’t be able to print a working firearm. A CubePro Duo printer, like the one at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library, costs about $2,000. Higher-end industrial printers costs tens or hundreds of thousands, some even into the millions. That doesn’t include the materials needed.

In 2018, the cost of printing a plastic, 3-D firearm is likely prohibitive to them becoming widespread. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. CBS News reported there have been at least four incidents at TSA checkpoints in airports across the U.S. that have involved 3-D printed guns or parts of guns since 2016.

And they work, too. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives did tests on the model that Wilson uploaded in 2013, and it fired all eight times it was tested without failure.


The case is set to go back to court Friday, Aug. 10, when both sides will argue whether a preliminary injunction is needed.

Regardless of the outcome, concerns over 3-D firearms aren’t going to go away. It’s nearly impossible to control the flow of information on the internet and it is inevitable that plans will end up out there for anyone who is looking hard enough. Wilson’s plans were already downloaded more than 100,000 times before the original cease and desist. And as higher quality 3-D printers — like all technology eventually — become more affordable to the average Joe, we could see a proliferation of these untraceable ‘ghost’ weapons.