Waking up as a Japanese citizen to the news of a fatal shooting would have been quite shocking, even if the victim was an ordinary citizen. Gun restrictions have been in place since 1958. The homicide rate is near zero, and last year there were just 10. But when the victim turns out to be Shinzo Abe, the former Prime Minister of Japan, the news becomes even more distressing. . Add to that the fact that the shooter used a homemade weapon in the assassination plot, and the whole incident sounds as loud as the JFK assassination. And while there don’t seem to be any questions regarding who actually committed the crime, there is definitely one question that should be on everyone’s radar at this point: how the hell can someone just fabricate a gun and kill someone? Well, it turns out that building a weapon is a lot easier than you might think. The reason? 3D printing.
Although the assassin’s weapon was forged by the shooter himself, the murder drew attention to the ease of access to such weapons afforded by 3D printing. If suspect Tetsuya Yamagami could create a working gun with just a few pieces of metal and wood and an understanding of how guns work, then is it easy to find a gun blueprint and model something after? Is it easy to directly 3D print a weapon? Again, it’s a lot easier than you think.
One of the glaring reasons why 3D printed weapons are so easy to obtain is the lack of restrictions on 3D printing. Essentially, all that is needed to craft such a weapon is a blueprint for the weapon itself and a machine to produce it. According to this website, you don’t even need a license. Anyone with a machine can produce almost anything they want with the means, even if what they produce can seriously injure someone.
In fact, it is more difficult to come up with a plan for such a weapon than to actually produce it. According to this source, most of the organizations involved in the production of 3D printed weapons are hardly organizations and are rather small groups of people interested in the matter. Their lack of formal structure means their ability to disseminate weapons plans is hampered; without a proper structure, groups interested in sharing these patterns are forced to do so on the internet. But given the stringent policies of many social media platforms, their ability to release blueprints is not as strong as their ability to produce the weapons themselves.
The only upside to making weapon blueprints harder to find than the weapons themselves is that it might limit the number of homemade guns since fewer people would have access to the blueprint. As for negatives, well, they’re still very easy to print once you have one, and the decentralized organization of shot producers makes it harder for the feds to keep track of them.
The federal law’s silence on the matter adds to the vastly under-regulated world of 3D printing. While Japan has strict laws against the production of 3D printed weapons, making it almost as difficult to acquire 3D weapons as normal weapons, the United States does not. Even with the Gun Control Act of 1968, it is completely legal to make and own homemade guns. The only rules for owners of such guns are that they must have a federally regulated part inside the gun and include at least 105 grams of metal.
While some states have since imposed regulations in an attempt to combat this potential threat, the federal government shows no such initiative. Seriously, that’s all the US government requires. As long as gun producers are in a state that does not have these restrictions and includes both 105 grams of metal and the federally mandated portion, they can continue to manufacture guns by hand or printed in 3D without any legal issues.
Unsurprisingly, the question in question had made its way into a courtroom just a few years after 3D printing became widely available. In 2013, one of the very first 3D printed weapons was created and the blueprint for its construction was posted online for everyone to see. The gun, dubbed “The Liberator”, is a fully functional gun made entirely from a 3D printer. While it might look like a nerf gun any kid could have in their house, it certainly shoots a lot harder. It fires a single .380 ACP cartridge, which for reference is the same caliber as many small pistols.
Ironically, the blueprint for the gun named Liberator was censored on the internet by the United States Department of State just two days after it was uploaded. Shortly after, the gun’s creator and Defense Distributed chief Cody Wilson sued the United States government, claiming that restricting free access to his gun’s blueprint violated the First Amendment. And as you probably guessed, he won the case. Accordingly, the weapon blueprint is available for download on the Internet.
So in the case of the weapon used in the assassination of Shinzo Abe, provided it met the above requirements, it would have been legal in the United States. The government would have no control over production, no right to deter access to the weapon’s blueprint, and absolutely no way to track the weapon’s existence. To me, that seems incredibly problematic. But in my experience, debates surrounding gun control are about as tumultuous as the shootings that give rise to those discussions. So rather than triggering another one of those arguments, I’ll leave that part to you.