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L.A. councilman wants to make it illegal to download blueprints for a printable gun

L.A. councilman wants to make it illegal to download blueprints for a printable gun
Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, shows a plastic gun made on a 3-D printer at his home in Austin, Texas, in 2013. (Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman)

The idea has set off alarm bells among gun control advocates: A do-it-yourself plastic firearm that can be manufactured using digital blueprints on a 3-D printer.

Now a Los Angeles councilman is trying to make it a misdemeanor to download those blueprints.

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Under a proposal introduced Friday by Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, Angelenos could be barred from possessing or transferring the blueprints for a 3-D-printed gun, as well as the weapons themselves. Englander also wants L.A. to prod the state to make possessing such guns or blueprints a felony across California.

Englander told reporters he was worried that as 3-D printing technology evolves and becomes more widely accessible, “you can go to the store tomorrow, buy a 3-D printer, and have a gun printed at home today — no waiting period, no serial number.

“That’s very dangerous to society,” the councilman said.

Critics fear that access to such blueprints will ease the way for people to make firearms that lack serial numbers, skirting licensing requirements and making them untraceable to police. Such guns are typically made of hard plastic, raising concerns that they could be carried through metal detectors and onto planes.

Some gun rights advocates have countered that citizens should have the freedom to access the blueprints. “Why wouldn’t the Second Amendment protect the right of a law-abiding citizen to make his or her own weapons?” Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said in a statement earlier this week.

Gun rights groups have also stressed that undetectable weapons already are targeted by existing laws. Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Assn. Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement Tuesday that “regardless of what a person may be able to publish on the internet, undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years.”

Englander said that people have gotten around a California law requiring a stainless steel component in such guns by making the metal piece a removable, “non-essential” component. He argued that by targeting the digital files to make such guns, his proposal would give law enforcement a new tool to try to prevent their spread.

The debate has been thrust into the headlines by a legal battle involving Austin, Texas, resident Cody Wilson, founder of digital firearm blueprint developer Defense Distributed, who reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department allowing him to put the blueprints online.

Earlier this week, a federal judge issued an order to temporarily stop the public from accessing the files, in reaction to a lawsuit from the attorneys general of multiple states. California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra announced Thursday that the state was joining that suit, led by Washington state, to block the release of the files.

“Why would anyone increase the burden on law enforcement and sabotage its ability to keep American communities safe?” Becerra said in a statement.

It is already possible to construct a gun at home, even without an expensive 3-D printer. Los Angeles authorities say that as it becomes harder to get firearms, gangs increasingly are turning to homemade guns built from parts purchased over the internet, dubbed “ghost guns” because they lack serial numbers.

Becerra cautioned Californians this week that if they make their own guns, they must be eligible to legally own or possess a firearm, include design features required under state law, and apply to the California Department of Justice for a unique firearm serial number and place it on the weapon.

Englander said Friday that while it already is possible to make a gun at home, he was concerned that as technology makes it easier, “people may just do it to see if it works,” regardless of their age, criminal history or mental health — and without following those state rules.

Chuck Michel, president and general counsel of the California Rifle & Pistol Assn., derided that idea.

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“An incredible amount of disinformation is being used to justify this kind of hysterical overreaction,” Michel said in an email reacting to the new proposal. Guns made of printed parts are “crude, unreliable, and short-lived. Bad guys are better off continuing to steal guns, or make equally crude firearms with parts from Home Depot.”

The Los Angeles City Council has backed gun control measures in the past, including requiring Angelenos to lock up or disable their handguns at home if the guns aren't close at hand. In March, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said he wanted the city to cut ties with companies that are linked to the NRA, a proposal that has yet to move forward.

1:25 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from Becerra and the California Rifle & Pistol Assn.

This article was originally published at 11:35 a.m.

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