- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gun control advocates are pushing to salvage a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines as part of the post-Newtown debate, but they may have been outflanked by technology in the form of 3D printers.

With their hopes of passing a ban on assault weapons diminishing, some senators have said they will seek a separate vote on the Senate floor next month on a proposal to ban the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets.

Sen. Christopher Murphy, whose home state of Connecticut was the scene of December’s shooting spree at an elementary school, said limiting magazines is “an equally effective way to reduce casualties in episodes of mass violence” as the ban on military-style, semiautomatic rifles.

But analysts say it’s unclear how effective a sales ban would be because so many high-capacity magazines are already out there. They also said 3D technology is poised to allow average citizens to circumvent the ban.

The printers take computer images and layer plastic to form those objects in three dimensions.

The technology has created a recent spike in demand for do-it-yourself magazine blueprints. Cody Wilson, a University of Texas law student, says there have been more than half a million direct downloads from the servers of his company, Defense Distributed, which was founded last year.

Citing Mr. Wilson’s company, Rep. Steve Israel, New York Democrat, wants such plastic magazines banned. He has called for the renewal of a law intended to ban guns not picked up by metal detectors and adding a ban on homemade, 3D-printed, plastic high-capacity magazines. The Undetected Firearms Act, first passed in 1988 and most recently renewed in 2003, is set to expire at the end of this year.

“Background checks and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print high-capacity magazines at home,” Mr. Israel said. “Law enforcement officials should have the power to stop keep homemade high-capacity magazines from proliferating with a Google search.”

Mr. Wilson, though, didn’t seem worried about his own efforts going forward, saying the die already has been cast.

“I need a better class of enemies,” he said.

And Bud Heidhausen, director of defense programs at the University Research Foundation’s Maryland Advanced Development Laboratory Division, said magazines may not be the only options for 3D printers.

Mr. Heidhausen, who routinely uses plastic magazines for research in gunfire detection, said it’s also possible to make parts that would turn a semiautomatic firearm into a fully automatic one.

“You’re going to spend all this effort putting out a bill that says you can’t buy these, and then you have a 14-year-old kid say, ‘Hey, I just made a 50-round shotgun,’” Mr. Heidhausen said. “It might [work] for a short period of time, but maybe not.”