The Legal Minefield Of 3D Printed Guns

A solid, non-working Colt 1911 static model by TaylarRoids is printed on a household printer; is this a digital blueprint? Richard Matthews, Author provided

Kristy Hamilton 03/02/2017, 21:06

The Conversation

3D printed guns are back in the news after Queensland set a legal precedent for giving Kyle Wirth a six-month suspended sentence for fabricating a number of gun parts.

As presiding Judge Katherine McGuinness acknowledged, Wirth didn’t produce an entire gun – it took police to add a few key parts in order for the gun to successfully fire a bullet – but he was “trying to make a gun”.

As such, she said “there is a real need to deter and protect the public from such offending”.

But if it’s illegal to build a gun via conventional means without a licence, what’s the concern over making guns using 3D printers in particular?

And for those who are either researching the capabilities of 3D printers – a form of additive manufacturing – or using them at home or in their business, it’s important to understand the legal boundaries under which they can be used.

3D printed firearms in Australia

3D printed guns currently occupy a grey area in terms of their legality in many jurisdictions around Australia. For example, the South Australian Police released a guide outlining which kinds of imitation firearms are considered legal.

The distinction between a “regulated imitation firearm” and a children’s toy is significant, as a South Australian man discovered in 2015. He was charged with a firearms offence after police found a toy gun in a box along with a single shotgun shell.

The judge acquitted him because the gun was clearly a child’s cap gun and could not be modified to fire the shell.

However, according to the South Australian Police’s guide, the “gun” pictured at the top of this article, although non-functional, is technically neither a “moulded imitation firearm” nor is it an “imitation firearm carved from timber, plastic or other material”. This means it’s unclear how it would be regarded by police or the courts.

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