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3D Guns Leave Area Merchants Unimpressed

August 2, 2018

It is legal to make a gun, but one controversial method --the 3D printing of firearms using blueprints a federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked from being posted online -- has left local gun advocates either disturbed or underwhelmed.

“I think it’s really foolish and ill-advised to try to put this information out to the public, because none of the people who are going to try and download it have had a background check,” said George LeBlanc, owner of LeBlanc’s Gun Shop in Fitchburg.

LeBlanc is one several gun shop owners who on Wednesday said attention surrounding 3D-printed guns is overwrought. But he nonetheless opposes the method of manufacturing firearms.

In June, the Justice Department settled with Texas-based nonprofit called Defense Distributed, which several years ago uploaded to the Internet plans for 3D printing a single-shot gun made of hard plastic.

The organization had been forced to remove the designs from the web following a Justice Department order under President Barack Obama.

The June settlement meant that, effective Wednesday, Defense Distributed was permitted to resume posting the plans online.

But on Tuesday, a federal judge issued a restraining order temporarily prohibiting Defense Distributed from re-posting the designs. The ruling was spurred by a court challenge issued by eight attorneys general, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

“The federal government is trying to allow access to online plans that will allow anyone to anonymously build their own downloadable, untraceable and undetectable gun” Healey said in a statement. “This is an imminent threat to public safety and violates the law.”

Vern Kellogg, a gunsmith at Hunters Rendezvous in Pepperell, was quick to say he’s “old-fashioned,” and hasn’t delved too deeply into the specifics of 3D-printed guns.

He was unaware of a type of plastic that could weather the force of repeatedly firing bullets, which he said creates 45,000 to 65,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.

“I see real guns that have exploded for one reason or another, and we’re talking about alloy-hardened steel,” he said. “For me, making a chamber out of plastic, I just see a firecracker.”

He said attention surrounding 3D-printed guns is similar to that paid to the Austrian Glock handgun, a model that is partially plastic.

Concern arose that Glock model guns could be snuck through metal detectors, concerns that proved false, according to Kellogg.

“It was the same kind of hysteria, and there wasn’t anything to be hysteric about,” he said.

A 1988 federal law prohibits the sale and manufacture of guns that fail to trigger metal detectors, according to the Associated Press.

The controversy surrounding 3D-printed plastic handguns is exactly the reason Victor Defelice opposes them.

Defelice manages a gun shop that sells only to members of the Leominster Sportsmen’s Association. When asked whether he supports the ability of citizens to download blueprints to “print” a gun, Defelice said, “I think they’re stupid, first off.”

Echoing Kellogg, Defelice said 3D-printed plastic weapons “are going to fall apart” when fired. Defelice said “the criminal is going to buy a gun on the black market” that is reliable.

“The danger is that the anti-gun people are going to holler and scream that this is putting more guns in the hands in criminals,” he said. “I hate to see a piece of junk put on the market that reflects badly on the entire gun fraternity.”

Defelice believes 3D-printed guns would be protected by the Second Amendment. When asked whether they should be legal, he said “no, absolutely not. They’re dangerous, they’re dangerous to the shooter. I don’t think anyone should put anything on the market that’s dangerous because of their quality.”

Defense Distributed also makes a milling machine called the Ghost Gunner, which Defelice said is capable of producing metal gun parts for a rifle or pistol.

The Ghost Gunner offers a more dangerous prospect than the blueprints that enable in-home production of plastic guns, he said.

“The real danger is the milling machine that (Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson) is selling, that could possibly be worth a lot to criminals,” said Defelice. “But the plastic guns are a red herring.”

Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts Executive Director Jim Wallace said he is “not exactly sure what the hoo-ha is about this stuff.”

“Lawful citizens can and have been able to make their own real guns, gosh forever, as long as you’re not giving them to someone else or selling them,” he said.

Undetectable guns have been illegal for decades, Wallace said, adding that he believes fears that untraceable, 3D-printed guns will be used for criminal purposes are unfounded.

“I honestly don’t see criminals going through all of this to make a gun. We have so much heroin and illegal guns on the street now, why are they going to go through all that trouble to buy a printer, get the technology and make a gun when they can already find a gun so easily, unfortunately,” he said.

Black North Firearms & Training owner Anthony Autiello, of Dracut, agreed, saying “anybody with $200 in their pocket could go to the downtown area and buy a firearm with a serial number filed off.”

He noted still another option for obtaining an unserialized firearm. Consumers, he said, can legally purchase a sports gun or handgun that is 80 percent built, has no serial number, but requires some assemblage after sale.

Autiello pointed out that the blueprints first became available in 2013, and have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.

“The information is already out there,” he said, adding that he’s not seen reports of crimes committed with a 3D-printed gun.

He agreed with the argument made by Wilson’s attorneys, who, according to the Associated Press, argued the case in favor of making public blueprints for 3D-printed guns on First Amendment grounds.

“It’s a free speech issue, and (Wilson) is allowed to share that info now what other people do with it is a different issue,” said Autiello.

Leominster Interim Police Chief Michael Goldman, a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, said he agrees with Attorney General Healey.

Goldman said the technology makes untraceable and undetectable guns more available. He was concerned criminals or terrorists would use the technology, which he said would provide means to “become an undocumented, unlicensed gun salesman.”

Back in Fitchburg, gun seller LeBlanc, a Vietnam War veteran, said he has been a longtime proponent of background checks on prospective gun owners.

LeBlanc said “printed” guns are “actually just a way to circumvent the law.”

“Anyone who doesn’t have something to hide shouldn’t mind being investigated,” he said.

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