July 20, 2019

Senate approves ban on 3-D printed guns and other untraceable firearms

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State House — The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne to ban 3-D printed firearms and other untraceable or undetectable firearms in Rhode Island.

“As we struggle to fight the gun epidemic in this country and try to improve our efforts to prevent children, criminals and the mentally ill from possessing firearms, we must not tolerate attempts to subvert our laws by making guns untraceable or undetectable. Serial numbers, background checks and metal detectors help prevent tragedies, and our laws should be clear that no one should be trying to get around them to engage in criminal activity,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).

The legislation (2019-S 0084 Aaa) 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 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. Repeat offenders would not be eligible to have any part of their sentences suspended or deferred, or for probation.

In June 2018, the federal government entered a settlement with a Texas nonprofit called Defense Distributed that was to allow it to post free online blueprints for a pistol that could be created from plastic by anyone with 3-D printing equipment. A U.S. District Court later issued a preliminary injunction banning the release of the blueprints until the resolution of a lawsuit by attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia seeking to ban the untraceable weapons.

Before the settlement, the U.S. State Department maintained Defense Distributed was in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. The attorneys general participating in the lawsuit, as well as Senator Coyne and many others, argue that releasing the plans imperils the public by allowing unlimited, unmarked, untraceable weapons to be accessed by anyone, including those legally prohibited from possessing them, and would allow the creation of weapons that would be undetectable by metal detectors.

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 October.

“With 3-D guns, criminals seeking guns would be able to bypass background checks, age restrictions and gun licensing rules,” said Senator Coyne, who is a retired lieutenant with the Rhode Island State Police. “This is a terrifying precedent, a blow to public safety and a huge potential tragedy in the making. We must not wait for the federal government or the courts to solve this problem. We can and must move now in Rhode Island to address this issue.”

The legislation is cosponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Senate Finance Committee Chairman William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) and Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton).

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) is sponsoring companion legislation (2019-H 5786).

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