August 9, 2020

Bill will ban 3-D printed guns and other untraceable firearms

Legislation, approved by Senate last year, would outlaw guns like the one believed to have been used in Pawtucket New Year’s Day murder

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State House — As investigators grapple with what may be Rhode Island’s first murder committed with a 3-D printed gun, Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne has reintroduced legislation to outlaw such weapons. Rep. Patricia A. Serpa, who filed a similar bill last year to ban such weapons, is preparing to submit identical legislation in the House.

The legislation (2020-S 2004) would prohibit the possession, manufacturing or selling of 3-D printed firearms, “ghost guns” and other untraceable or undetectable firearms in Rhode Island.

“Our laws require serial numbers, background checks and age restrictions for gun ownership to provide accountability and some level of safety. 3-D guns, ghost guns and undetectable plastic guns are all meant to dodge these safeguards, at tremendous risk to public safety. These guns are designed for criminal activity. Our state laws should be very clear that possessing, creating or selling them is a criminal act, and we should be doing everything we can to keep these dangerous weapons from proliferating here,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).

“These homemade, undetectable guns are easily made by anyone with even a little bit of technical ability,” said Representative Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick). “While I am a strong proponent of people’s right to bear arms, these devices simply lack the safety, reliability and accountability of conventional firearms and have become a menace to society.”

The legislation would make it unlawful in Rhode Island for any person to manufacture, sell, offer to sell, transfer, purchase, possess, or have under his or her control any firearm that is made from plastic, fiberglass or through a 3-D printing process; or a ghost gun — one that lacks a serial number under the requirements of the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968; or one that would be undetectable by a metal detector after removal of all parts other than a major component, or whose major component would not generate an accurate image if subjected to the type of screening equipment used at airports and public buildings.

The bill sets a punishment for violations at up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Regardless of lawsuits, federal decisions and restraining orders preventing their original authors from posting them online, blueprints for 3-D printed firearms remain available on Internet, allowing anyone with access to a 3-D printer to create an untraceable plastic gun.

Investigators believe such a gun was used in the New Year’s Day murder of Cheryl Smith in her Pawtucket home. Suspects Jack Doherty, 23, of Albany, N.Y., and Shaylyn Moran, 18, of Pawtucket, allegedly used a handgun that appears to be made from 3-D printed parts. A Facebook account apparently used by Doherty includes several posts made prior to the murder showing the gun as it was being created.

The director of the Rhode Island State Crime Lab has said the weapon is the first 3-D gun it has been tasked with investigating, and that it will pose challenges, since plastic weapons may not leave marks on bullets the way metal guns do. Plastic weapons are also known to frequently explode when fired, so the staff at the crime lab may be unable to conduct test firing on the weapon.
Banning 3-D printed guns was one of the recommendations made by the Rhode Island Working Group for Gun Safety, a 43-member task force that was assembled following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., when panel issued its final report in 2018.

The bill, which passed the Senate last year, is cosponsored in the Senate by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) and Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick).

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