Editorial: Concern over untraceable guns is warranted

Maryland’s lawmakers seem ready to address the matter of untraceable firearms when they return to Annapolis for the 90-day legislative session on Jan. 9, but like any legislation related to guns, there is likely to be push back.

At issue are not traditional firearms, but rather 3D printed firearms and so-called ghost guns. House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat, said she plans to introduce a bill this session banning both in Maryland.


Guns made using 3D printing technology came to the forefront last summer, when the Washington state’s attorney general filed a lawsuit — later joined by Maryland’s AG Brian Frosh — to block the release of digital 3D firearms blueprints by Defense Distributed Inc., which sought to distribute them online. Legal proceedings in that case are ongoing.

Right now, using this technology to “print” a three-dimensional plastic firearm would be incredibly cost-prohibitive. It’s estimated it would cost hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars to print an operable plastic gun. And, based on existing technology, it would only be able to fire a single shot before the bullet would ruin the plastic, rendering it useless.

Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, a Second Amendment advocacy group, emphasized these points in an interview with the Capital News Service, calling legislation “absurd,” noting a 3D firearm has never been used in a crime and that “it’s just hysteria and nothing more.”

However, it’s worth noting that 3D printing technology has advanced rapidly in less than a decade and has become more economical to the degree that personal 3D printers can be purchased online for a few hundred dollars. It’s not unfathomable that in another 10 years, the technology would advance to the point that printing a 3D weapon could be a cheaper alternative than buying one off the street for someone looking to commit a crime.

Perhaps more concerning, though, are what are known as ghost guns.

Ghost guns are kits for metal firearms that are sold online, but are incomplete. Because these are not complete, these kits are not required to have serial numbers, making them untraceable. Serial numbers have been required on at least some firearms since the 1934 passage of the National Firearms Act, and are used to trace the weapons if they are stolen or used in a crime.

But the missing parts can be purchased separately, and legally, to turn the ghost gun kits into fully functioning weapons similar to one that could be legally purchased by a dealer or illegally off the street.

Cassandra Crifasi, assistant professor of health policy and deputy director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University, told the Capital News Service that she would be far more concerned about these ghost guns, which are more like a real gun that could be purchased by a licensed dealer and are “far more effective and functional than something that’s plastic.”

It seems unlikely that legislation will pass this session, as when it comes to any firearms regulations, there will be plenty of opposition. And because the concepts of plastic guns and ghost gun kits are relatively new, some lawmakers will want to take time to get additional information before casting a vote. Much like the red-flag law passed last year, it often takes a tragedy involving firearms for lawmakers to react, rather than taking proactive steps. That often leads to hastily made laws based on emotion rather than common-sense approaches.

In that regard, we think it is good lawmakers intend to introduce bills and discuss these matters now, hopefully leading to carefully crafted, common-sense legislation addressing untraceable firearms before any crimes can be carried out involving them.