3D guns could pose threat
STORM LAKE — New 3D guns, firearms that can be produced by anyone with a 3D printer and blueprints, could pose a threat to the streets of Storm Lake, says Storm Lake Department of Public Safety Director Mark Prosser.
A federal judge in Seattle issued a preliminary injunction in July blocking the manufacturer of the blueprints, Texas-based Defense Distributed, from distributing them online for now. Iowa is one of 19 states suing to permanently block online distribution.
But on Tuesday, Defense Distributed owner Cody Wilson said he has started selling the blueprints again anyway. Instead of posting them online for free, news outlets report he is selling the plans for as little as a penny, distributing them by mailing thumb drives they are downloaded to or via other secure means.
"Regulation under the (law) means that the files cannot be uploaded to the internet, but they can be emailed, mailed, securely transmitted or otherwise published within the United states," said U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik on the final page of his ruling.
One issue with the plastic guns is the potential for harm from novices and those without any firearm training or education, Prosser said. The other is detectability, as metal detectors cannot find the weapons.
"Something like that always concerns public safety where circumvention of screening is possible," he said.
Concerns regarding the potential for terrorists and dangerous felons to make the untraceable, undetectable plastic weapon are high on the list of arguments supporting a permanent ban.
While law enforcement doesn't use metal detectors out in the field, the situation could complicate scenarios of officers coming across real weapons that look like toys, similarly to the scenario posed by children's toys that look like real weapons.
This is complicated by scenarios with less than optimal lighting and dangerous situations where judgment calls need to be made.
"Most use of force is within five feet, and gives officers one to three seconds to make a decision," said Prosser.
Protocol requires law enforcement officers to treat all items resembling a firearm as real weapons until they can confirm that the object is not one.
"Our first goal for officers is to make sure they go home every night," he said, "and if they assume something's always a toy, they're going to get hurt."
He said officers might be more defensive with children holding toy guns as well. Adding functional, toy-like guns to the mix of nonfunctional toys and conventional firearms convolutes public safety and law enforcement all the more.
Simply put, "a real firearm should look like a real firearm. Something that's not should look clearly different," Prosser said.
Speaking before news broke that West was distributing the gun blueprints via less direct means, Prosser said one check on 3D firearms manufacturing is the availability of the materials and types of plastic needed to make the weapons, which are not easily attainable. The weapons also take a substantial amount of time to make.
"There is a level of reassurance that not everyone is going to manufacture those," he said.
Separate from that, Prosser said it's just not prudent to put the blueprints out for any weapon.
"It could ultimately lead to tragedy," he said.