Cody Wilson takes aim at gun laws (courtesy forbes.com)

There are a ton of media outlets reporting that Philadelphia has passed a ban on the manufacture of firearms using a 3D printer within city limits, but according to the city’s website the bill is still pending. It seems that the source of all of the stories is a PhillyMag article from the 21st, which I have yet to see confirmed by any other news entity and seems a tad strange. Needless to say, Moms Demand Action is already trumpeting this “win” on their Twitter feed, nevermind that the bill may not have actually passed yet. Minor details and all. Anyway, assuming the bill passes, Philadelphia will indeed be the first city to try and legislate restrictions on what people can and cannot do with their 3D printer, which is kinda like passing a law making it illegal to watch porn on the internet . . .

Needless to say, there are all sorts of issues with such legislation. First and foremost: how the hell do you enforce such a thing? Will they now require 3D printers to be registered? How about requiring a background check before you can get your MakerBot? Or perhaps you will need a tax stamp from the ATF? The beauty of a personal 3D printer is that it’s yours, and you can use it to do whatever you want in the privacy of your own home, and the government has no way of knowing that it even exists. The only way this law could ever possibly be used is as an add-on when someone breaks some other law, and given how the citizens of Philadelphia feel about the prohibition against marijuana and other illegal narcotics I’m sure these laws will be just as effective.

Did I say effective? I meant legislative circle-jerk.

Second,this law not only makes it illegal to print a complete gun, but any gun part. So if I’m trying to prototype a new safety design for my existing firearm and turn to my 3D printer, I have just committed a crime. But where does it stop? If I print a spring, it could be used for some other project, or it could be for a magazine. There are a ton of common parts that many different machines use, guns included, and this seems like a blank check for the police to arrest anyone with a 3D printer who they don’t like. This was the issue with the 3D printer ban that was proposed in California — it was so broad as to be ridiculous — and it doesn’t seem to have been solved.

Finally, there’s a small problem with Philadelphia passing gun laws. The state of Pennsylvania’s laws supersede local codes, as outlined below:

§ 6120. Limitation on the regulation of firearms and ammunition.

(a) General rule.–No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.

(a.1) No right of action.–

(1) No political subdivision may bring or maintain an action at law or in equity against any firearms or ammunition manufacturer, trade association or dealer for damages, abatement, injunctive relief or any other relief or remedy resulting from or relating to either the lawful design or manufacture of firearms or ammunition or the lawful marketing or sale of firearms or ammunition to the public.

(2) Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit a political subdivision from bringing or maintaining an action against a firearms or ammunition manufacturer or dealer for breach of contract or warranty as to firearms or ammunition purchased by the political subdivision.

(b) Definitions.–As used in this section, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection:

“Dealer.” The term shall include any person engaged in the business of selling at wholesale or retail a firearm or ammunition.

“Firearms.” This term shall have the meaning given to it in section 5515 (relating to prohibiting of paramilitary training) but shall not include air rifles as that term is defined in section 6304 (relating to sale and use of air rifles).

“Political subdivision.” The term shall include any home rule charter municipality, county, city, borough, incorporated town, township or school district.

18c6120v

(Oct. 18, 1974, P.L.768, No.260, eff. imd.; Dec. 19, 1988, P.L.1275, No.158, eff. 180 days; Oct. 4, 1994, P.L.571, No.84, eff. 60 days; Dec. 15, 1999, P.L.915, No.59, eff. imd.)

However, Philadelphia has typically been given more leeway in terms of local laws due to its size. For example, their concealed and open carry laws are different from the rest of the state. However, it’s possible that this new law might be over the boundary of what they can pass and come under scrutiny from the state AG.

We’ll keep an eye on the situation, but for now it looks like the communal pants browning by gun control advocates continues every time they think of Cody Wilson’s little invention.

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51 Responses to Philadelphia Considers Law Banning 3D Printed Guns

  1. The PA AG is a flaming liberal who hates guns. She wouldn’t challenge a preemption violation unless it was a law giving a city MORE gun rights…

    • That’s the unfortunate truth. We have a clear preemtion statute in effect, and other municipalities have hung themselves in the past trying to pass gun laws. But, Philly always seems to get whatever they want. The AG doesn’t help the situation. How she got elected, I can’t fathom. She is pretty hot, maybe it was that.

    • Open carry is legal in the state of PA, except in cities of the first class i.e. Philly and Pittsburgh. But, that’s only because open carry is de facto legal so preemption doesn’t take effect. As far as concealed carry, mind you I’m not one hundred percent sure because I’ve never gone through the process in general let alone in Philly specifically (not 21 yet), I’ve heard that Philly will use the most obscure reason (read:ANY) to deny a permit, in a sense creating their own system of may-issue rather than shall-issue.

      • Actually Pittsburg has the regular state rules as far as firearms. Only Philly has the special laws. I guess it’s because they are so “special” over there.

        • Yes. Philadelphia is the only PA city ‘of the First Class.’ You can’t carry a rifle on the streets of Philadelphia during an emergency unless you have a LCF (carry permit). If you carried a concealed handgun with a license during Mayor Street’s term, they’d arrest you anyway, because Street felt it was unfair that white suburban guys had permits that inner city guys were disproportionately disqualified from obtaining.

          Philadelphia is actually a fun and interesting city if you know where to go and where not to go.

        • …and if you have the good sense not to go to a sporting event with the jersey of any opposing team. You are literally taking your life in your hands if you do so.

        • Good info, especially since I may be visiting the area with my LTC… I had heard at some point that they had something like the Sullivan Act in NY, but then read that such wasn’t the case.

        • A PA LTCF allows you to carry either open or concealed in Philly. Technically. You can’t carry at all without one. Anyway, I still wouldn’t open carry in Philly. After the city got sued for police harassment, the cops are supposedly trained to treat carriers with respect, but I wouldn’t count on it.

          Philly is as full retard as it can be given State pre-emption. It is illegal to carry any kind of knife unless it’s used for your job, illegal to carry a baseball bat, and I’m sure I am missing a few. BTW, even if you do carry a knife, you probably won’t be prosecuted just for that; it’s typically an add-on if you get arrested for something else.

      • I Wiki-ed “cities of the first class”, and Wikipedia does not have an entry for the term. Can someone explain? I’ve never heard the term. And I’ve been around for a spell.

        • “City of the First Class” was a term created for legislative convenience in PA. Philadelphia needed to be treated separately for many reasons in state statutes. The “License to Carry Firearms” is but one of those areas.

  2. I believe this has been incorporated:

    “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or OF THE PRESS;…” (emphasis mine)

    Unless I am mistaken dissemination of information over the Internet should count as freedom of speech and it would seem very difficult from a legal standpoint to argue that any printing device would not qualify under freedom of the press. If an AR is equivalent to a musket under the Second Amendment then any computer printer, even if it is printing 3 dimensional objects, is equivalent to an 18th century printing press.

    While presses using printer’s ink generally result in 2D finished product, the amendment does not specify what the product of the press must look like and many presses turn out embossed or gold leaf print, not to mention Brail, all of which are in fact three dimensional.

    I seem to recall a rather controversial ruling a while back where SCOTUS also equated stripping/pole dancing and walking on or burning an American flag as protected speech.

    Any attempt to prohibit or regulate the possession of or product from a 3d printer should be pursued as a blatant violation of the First Amendment freedom of the press and any attempt to regulate WHAT that 3d printer can print is a violation of the freedom of speech.

    There can be NO leeway given in this regard. The federal government, and by incorporation all other government entities, may not violate the freedom of the press or freedom of speech.

    • Philadelphia City Council passes lots of silly laws. It’s a “chip on the shoulder” kind of thing. They think that if they pass anti-gun laws the rest of the nation won’t notice that the north and southwest neighborhoods are full of guys shooting each other. Or, the guys that sell guns on streetcorners are pissed off about this “just print one” concept. Fact is, there aren’t enough tech-savvy guys in those neighborhoods for the “print a gun” concept to catch on.

  3. And while I am not a machinist, aren’t CNC machines just big, expensive printers using computer code to print an object out of metal?

    The process of removing material to get the printed product is no different than using lasers or other cutting devices to make those vinyl signs you can stick on a car door or the Happy Birthday and other holiday streamers available everywhere. They are ALL 3 dimensional and except for final use no different from printing a toy gun or a real gun from plastic.

    How about the laser devices that can scan your face and automatically carve a likeness out of foam? Ban those too?

      • Additive vs. subtractive doesn’t matter in this case – the Philadelphia law defines any computer controlled machine that makes 3D parts as a ‘3D printer’. So if you want to CNC mill a set of grips for your target pistol, you now need an FFL07 (if the bill gets signed, that is).

      • Whether adding or subtracting, the process is still printing and requires a machine specifically designed to do it, hence the press/printer and musket/AR-15 comparison.

        Originally printing was accomplished by adding ink to paper: additive. Fancy printing, like gold on wedding invitations, etc., is also additive, but the results are (very thin, but) three dimensional. Embossing and Brail does not add or subtract anything, but the results are printed AND three dimensional.

        Using a computer to control cutters when creating vinyl signs, etc., results in a subtractive effort, but the results are still printing. Using a CNC machine subtracts material, but the result is essentially a printed copy of the original program. The laser and cutter modeling technique uses the laser to computerize the three dimensional object, then translates that into a cutter that reprints the object by subtracting foam from a block, It is still a printer.

        This has very little to do with the Second Amendment except that it scares the crap out of them and they think they can get away with passing laws about it “because guns”. This is entirely a First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of the press issue and needs to be addressed as such.

        With current technology, if I had the Liberator program in my possession, I could call a friend with a 3D printer 2,000 miles away and read him that information. That is entirely covered by the 1A. I could hook up a modem and send this information to him over that same telephone line, still 1A. He could link that info directly to his 3D printer, freedom of the press. He could print a Liberator, once again 1A freedom of the press. All we have done is communicated and he has printed the subject of our communication. If, just to be sure we are covered I modify the program so that when he prints the Liberator the printer automatically includes the entire text of the Second Amendment on each side of the pistol, does that not qualify as freedom of speech and of the press? The use to which he may or may not put the Liberator after it is printed is strictly up to him, but prior restraint is hardly justified on a Constitutional basis, especially against the First Amendment, doesn’t that qualify as government censorship?

  4. Raise your hand if you think a brawl between The City of Brotherly Love and the Keystone State would be something worth watching!

    • It’s a constant, a non-stop cage fight. Kathleen Kane would not be AG in PA if not for Philadelphia. Philly’s going through the early stages of Chicago Syndrome. Like many people, I dream of the day northeast Philadelphia secedes from the city and county, altering the voter mix and numbers. I can humbly say I live in one of the three best neighborhoods in Pennsylvania, but recently my township was thrown from a conservative Republican’s district into Chaka Fatah’s congressional district. It’s touch and go in a Purple state. It’s going to be “three yards and a cloud of dust” for the near future, a heavy ground game, politically.

      • I have a long train ride to get to work every day, but it’s well worth it to me to not live in the city. Of course, they still get a little slice of everything I make via their damn local income tax, which pisses me off to no end, but not much I can do about it ATM.

  5. Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is the caliber of the “gun” in the picture? Is that the infamous .9mm?

  6. Why not make a simple firearm out of steel? Drilling holes and filing steel isn’t difficult. The only question in my mind is whether or not you should harden any of the parts, which parts you should harden, and how to actually harden them.

    • Heat treatment, you mean. Heat treatment does more than just harden steel; it alters the crystalline microstructure, and “tempers” the steel.

    • Pennsylvania has, for the time being, very good gun laws….if there is such a thing. Philly City Council just likes to make noise. Now they can go to national Demo meetings and trumpet how tough they are on crime. Only they recently defunded two of the best anti-career-criminal programs they had, helping hookers and dealers get out of the game. The major war today in Pennsylvania is over money, our money, not guns.

    • You can buy steel in a heat-treated state. You could use this pre-HT steel (which is about Rockwell C hardness of 30 to 32 or so) for barrels, slides, bolts, etc. Getting harder is possible, but not really needed. Some companies harden the snot out of their steels (like Dakota’s rifle actions), but while this increases the tensile and yield strength of the steel, it isn’t necessary. Some rifles have exquisite heat treating engineering in them, such as the M1A/M14, which uses case hardening to create a very hard outer layer with a softer interior. The heat treating of a M14 bolt is the stuff of legend, because it took so many tries to get it right.

      But for go-slow guns, really, the only parts where it is absolutely necessary to harden the steel are places like:

      1. Firing pins or strikers.

      2. Springs – especially if you’re going to make leaf springs (eg, the types of springs used for the mainspring in a revolver, the sear/disconnector/trigger spring in a 1911, etc). No hardness, no spring.

      3. Some pivot/retention pins and screws, eg, the link pin on a 1911. Oh, and the link.

      That said, when you choose your steel correctly, heat treatment isn’t difficult. Here’s the dime-store description of how you heat treat small parts with a propane torch:

      1. Heat until bright red. You need to be above the critical temp for the steel in question. A good way to tell is to try to attract a magnet with the steel part. When the steel is no longer magnetic, you’ve exceeded the critical temperature for that steel.

      2. Dunk in a large container (1 gal or better) of linseed or other natural oil. Or you could go online and look for “quenching oil.” Heck, even used 10W40 car oil will work. Old time gunsmiths would quench in sperm whale oil, the dominant oil in a gunsmith’s shop. Good for lubing guns, quenching, tempering springs, you name it. Crappy oil will make the part hard, but also leave lots of black, crusty residue on the outside of the part you’ll have to remove in the next step. Natural oils leave less gunk on quenched parts than mineral oils.

      3. Polish the part back to white steel. You’ll need the part to be “in the white” to judge the tempering step, coming next.

      4. Apply heat slowly and carefully to achieve the desired level of tempering. For most springs, you’ll want blue steel. For something like a firing pin, dark straw would work fine. This is the step where lots of people blow it, because they have no idea how heat moves through metal, and they usually end up taking most of the hardness out of the steel.

      Old time gunsmiths would temper their springs in sperm whale oil by getting a small tobacco or snuff tin, putting a bit of sperm whale oil into the tin, then they’d put in the spring to be tempered and they’d light the whale oil on fire. When the flames went out, the tempering was done. This was all very scientific.

      Here’s a heat treatment color chart:

      http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/tempering-colors-steel-d_1530.html

      Sounds terribly complicated, doesn’t it? Well, it can be, especially with newer steels. But with older 10XX AISI steels, it’s really pretty straightforward. You could make everything in a gun with 4140 steel but for the pins, screws and springs. Use 1215 or 12L14 for the screws, O1 or S7 tool steel for pins, 1070 for the springs.

      This isn’t rocket science folks. It only seems that way because you didn’t take shop class. This was high-school shop class knowledge 40+ years ago.

    • Old news. And, according to his updates to the article, he is being hounded to frustration with comments supporting the OC’ers.

  7. As if Philadelphia, a city of the first class, has no budget, crime or other social problems so they will gleefully spend taxpayer money on the legislative process and later enforcement of something that really isn’t a problem. Seriously, was a 3D printed gun used in some sensational crime in Philly that I didn’t hear about? Another boogeyman firearms monster being created by incompetent politicians to distract their population from the rampant crime, poverty, illegal drugs and other social maladies that plague the City of Brotherly love.

    • I suspect this is a Bloomberg-inspired test case to see if they can get away with it. If this is not fought immediately on numerous constitutional grounds we will see these same prohibitions popping up all over the country.

  8. The preemption law in PA is pretty solid. But as stated above, our state AG is a flaming liberal, and acts at the will of her Democrat masters in Philly and financier Michael Bloomberg. She has already demonstrated a propensity to ignore violations of state law she doesn’t agree with. I don’t expect her to get involved with this at all. Heaven help us if Schwartz beats Corbett next year.

  9. Again, if the politicians in Philly and most major US cities were not busy obfuscating the real issue, which is “Why is the city failing its citizens on so many levels?”, then the citizenry and the media might actually focus on the politicians and their incompetence to run the city efficiently and their only real competence, which is getting re-elected at the expense of the overall welfare of the city.

  10. Yes banning not only the guns itself but putting restrictions and possible regulations(ie-class III type licensing/dangerous weapons-chemical biz licensing) on the printers themselves will be a strong trend by mid 2014. I’m amazed there hasn’t been federal legislation yet.

    • Ah, the Brave New World. But even the dimwits in Congress can see the Constitutional problems with either outlawing a printing press or outlawing the products that come off of that press.

      Certainly the Founding Fathers could not envision a printing press that would create a firearm, but they COULD and did envision a tyrannical government that would try to take away our natural and civil rights. I predict that in the near future we will hear a lot of arguments from Congress-critters about how this isn’t the same thing as a printing press, but is a “Democrats are stealing our civil rights!” broadsheet or e-mail or fax or YouTube video more or less potentially dangerous than an occasional Liberator pistol? Both are the products of freedom of speech and of the press and not subject to government censorship.

  11. “However, Philadelphia has typically been given more leeway in terms of local laws due to its size. For example, their concealed and open carry laws are different from the rest of the state. However, it’s possible that this new law might be over the boundary of what they can pass and come under scrutiny from the state AG.”

    That’s still part of state law, not an allowance for Philadelphia to create more stringent gun laws.

    Specifically Pennsylvania law allows for permit-free open carry on foot, except in “cities of the first class”. This is defined as any city with more than a million residents, and Philadelphia is the only city in Pennsylvania of that size. You can still open-carry in Philly so long as you possess a Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms.

  12. I’d like this idea of registering printers to die a sudden and tragic death, as a concept. First off, the technology is such that you can use a 3D printer (registered or otherwise) to simply print the components for another 3D printer. Secondly, there is not way to tie a particular print to a particular printer. These two simple facts demonstrate how stupid this whole line of thinking is, and anyone proposing such legislative options is demonstrating an utter lack of imagination and knowledge of the medium.

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