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Downloadable Guns


Downloadable Guns

What is the problem?

Downloadable guns, or 3-D printed guns, are serious threats to our communities. With a 3-D printer and access to the computer schematics, anyone can build an untraceable firearm without a background check.

Anyone can print their own firearm or the parts for the firearm with a commercially available 3-D printer. All they need is the computer code, a printer, and the plastic printing materials—no background check required. These plastic guns can evade metal detectors and exist completely outside the federal firearms licensee system.1US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, “Audit of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ Monitoring of 3-D Firearm Printing Technology,” December 2021, This makes it easy for individuals to carry these firearms with them anywhere, any time.

The Trump Administration,2US Department of State, “International Traffic in Arms Regulations: U.S. Munitions List Categories I, II, and III,” Federal Register 85, no. 15 (January 23, 2020): 3819–33, however, moved to remove downloadable guns from the United States Munitions List and make the computer code widely available to anyone—prohibited purchasers, children, and foreign terrorists—anywhere. 

The Biden Administration should return 3-D printed firearms to the United States Munitions List to once again regulate the computer code required to make them. Congress should pass the 3D-Printed Gun Safety Act,3S.1819 – 3D Printed Gun Safety Act of 2023, 118th Congress (2023-2024), which would make it unlawful to intentionally distribute the digital instructions that program 3-D printers to make firearms online—once and for all. In addition, Congress should reauthorize4In 2024, the Undetectable Firearms Act was reauthorized through 2031, after which it will require another reauthorization. Brian Freskos and Alain Stephens, “Congress Renews Ban on Undetectable Firearms,” The Trace, March 12, 2024, and strengthen the Undetectable Firearms Act5H.R.4445 – Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, 100th Congress (1987-1988),—the law that bans plastic firearms. States should also take immediate steps to regulate 3-D printed guns and the plans necessary to make them.

Downloadable gun

Do-it-yourself, downloadable guns are incredibly dangerous.

A downloadable gun

Why is it an issue?

Downloadable guns are a threat to public safety.

Not only do plastic firearms easily pass through metal detectors, but these downloadable guns undermine laws that block gun access to domestic abusers and violent extremists. Downloadable guns allow people to own guns without undergoing a background check. This puts communities in danger. 3-D printed guns are “ghost guns.” They have no serial number. This makes it impossible for law enforcement to trace 3-D printed guns if they’re used in crimes. In other words, they’re a gun trafficker’s dream. While we don’t know how many 3-D printed guns are in circulation, we do know ghost guns as a whole comprise a significant proportion of the crime guns recovered by law enforcement.1ATF, “National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment (NFTCA),Volume II: Crime Gun Intelligence and Analysis—Part III: Crime Guns Recoveredand Traced within the United States and Its Territories,” January 2023, Following the finalization of the ATF rule regarding the definition of frames and receivers,2US Department of Justice and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “Definition of ‘Frame or Receiver’ and Identification of Firearms,” Federal Register 87, no. 80 (April 26, 2022): 24652–749, some ghost gun sellers shifted to offering 3-D printing files for frames and receivers along with the rest of the parts necessary to build untraceable guns. Without the right protections in place, downloadable guns will become an insidious source of violence in this nation.

By the numbers

You might be wondering…

  1. 1 Do plastic guns even work?
  2. 2 Are downloadable guns considered to be ghost guns?
  3. 3 Why did the Trump administration decide to move jurisdiction over downloadable guns away from the State Department?
  4. 4 Is there proof that people who are not allowed to have guns are printing guns?
  5. 5 Isn’t the technology for 3-D printing guns too expensive to pose a risk?
  6. 6 Are 3-D printed guns illegal?