Concerns over 3D guns

Local law enforcement officials have concerns about issues with self-manufactured firearms.

TALLADEGA -- Local law enforcement representatives say they recognize the threat posed by self-manufactured firearms, regardless of whether publication of gun blueprints becomes allowed.

However, security measures might be altered to reduce that threat.

After granting a temporary restraining order to block the download of 3D gun blueprints from Texas nonprofit Defense Distributed last week, U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik will hold a hearing today to decide whether the order should be permanent.

Local law enforcement officials see some problems with making homemade guns more easily available.

“I’m a Second Amendment guy. I believe that good, law-abiding citizens should be able to have guns and should be able to purchase guns,” Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore said. “But what is most concerning to me, from a law enforcement standpoint and a public safety standpoint, is that there is no background check or anything like it if you’re just making your own gun.

“It’s a legitimate concern. You can end up with those who are legally prohibited from buying a gun or carrying a gun, people with felony convictions or with mental problems, not having any kind of checks and balances.

“I know that still happens anyway, but when we run across someone carrying a gun without a permit, or someone with a criminal record, or a gun that has been reported stolen, at least we can do something about it.”

The latter point also raises an issue of concern, Kilgore added.

“There’s no serial number, so the gun is basically untraceable,” he said. “If you use it to commit a homicide, you can’t trace it back. Or you can just melt it down after you use it in a crime, and the evidence is gone.”

Talladega police Chief Jason Busby said he also has concerns.

“First, you have the potential for someone to injure themselves,” he said. “If you’re using a substandard polymer, for instance, it would probably work just well enough to injure or kill you.”

But Busby’s primary concern also involved access to guns for those who shouldn’t have them.

“You’re talking about the complete deregulation of what has been put in place,” he said. “There are legal means to firearm ownership for a reason. I support the Second Amendment and the right to own guns. But I also know that we have laws in place that prevent persons who should not own guns from having access to them. Making your own is just a way around that.”

Anniston police Chief Shane Denham agreed with some of the points but said publication of the blueprints would not affect the legal status of producing untraceable, undetectable guns.

“From a law-enforcement perspective, I don’t see it being allowed to be legal,” he said. “These kinds of things need to be regulated, that’s why systems are set up for that.”

Denham said nothing positive would come from publishing the blueprints, but that barring such could interfere with free speech rights. Even so, he said, he has no doubt that 3D printed guns will never be legalized without proper regulation, such as serial numbers.

“They’d never be legally produced whether it’s on the internet or not,” he said. “There are all kinds of things on the internet that don’t belong there.”

Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade had a different perspective, stating that fears of these undetectable guns rely too heavily on the performance of security tools like metal detectors.

“Metal detectors are just a tool; nothing is a catch-all,” he said. “It could be more difficult, but could somebody with a metal weapon get past a magnetometer? It depends. Especially with mass shootings in schools, people say we should put metal detectors at the doors, and it would solve all the problems. I really don’t think that would solve them all. It’s a tool that could be useful, but it doesn’t fix it all.”

Wade said that while 3D printed guns might pose new security challenges, these questions and concerns already exist with traditional weapons. Instances such as undocumented sales between individuals or ordering separate gun parts online also muddy up the ability to track guns and their owners.

“I think it’s very important in our country that we don’t rely on one piece of technology to be a catch-all,” Wade said. “Good security is not convenient. It’s a multi-layered, multi-approach type thing.

“Any security system could be defeated, whether it be digitally or physically. We’re dealing with humans who have infinite creativity. Who would have thought that they’d be able to build a gun with a printer? So there’s a great example.”

Wade said he’s confident that if these types of weapons were legalized, different security measures could be taken to detect them, even locally.

“At the courthouse, we use a magnetometer, but we also use an X-ray machine, so if someone has that plastic gun in there, we’ll see the shape and the hard-ridge lines to it,” he said. “So to say that 3D printed guns will jeopardize the way everything is done, I’m not sure.”

-- Staff writer Chris Norwood contributed to this story.