PRESS EDITORIAL: Plastic-gun threat needs a steely response


That in effect was Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s response last week when he was asked whether his Department of Justice was doing anything to address the threat posed by plastic guns that are invisible to metal detectors.

Schimel is not one of the 21 state attorneys general who urged the U.S. secretary of state and attorney to cancel an agreement that allows the internet posting of instructions and plans for making plastic guns with 3D printers.

Nor is Wisconsin a party to the lawsuit filed by eight states and the District of Columbia last week that resulted in a federal court issuing an injunction temporarily preventing a Texas gun-rights zealot from posting blueprints for a plastic gun he has named The Liberator.

Schimel said his department might look into the matter, but added “we must always balance safety with the protection of the First and Second Amendment rights of citizens” and in any case the issue “appears to be moot” because the plastic gun-making information can already be found on the internet.

This seems a rather casual approach to a situation that is an obvious menace to public safety and a boon to terrorists who could make so-called “ghost guns” using CAD files from the internet and readily available 3D printers. Firearms made of plastic with no metal components cannot be detected by security scanners in airports and other places.

To borrow Schimel’s word, what would be made “moot” by posting the plastic gun plans would be Wisconsin’s gun regulations and those of every other state. Felons, children, people on terror watch lists, anyone could skirt laws preventing them from owning a gun by making it themselves.

Lip service to the First and Second Amendments is fine, but there are limits to the reach of both amendments that even the fiercest defenders of constitutional freedoms agree are necessary.

The Supreme Court decision that reinforced Americans’ right to keep and bear firearms, written by Justice Anthony Scalia, also held that reasonable regulation of gun use and ownership is permissible under the Second Amendment.

It is hard to imagine that gun owners, hunters and gun-rights advocates, including National Rifle Association members, would not agree that restricting the dissemination of plastic gun-making instructions that would empower terrorists is reasonable.

Free speech concerns are germane to the issue of posting the plastic gun instructions and should be aired in court, but it is a settled legal matter that there are limits to the First Amendment, including a long-standing high-court finding that speech that may incite law-breaking and violence is not protected.

This is likely of no concern to Cody Wilson, the man who is attempting to put the downloadable gun on the internet. He describes himself as an anarchist.

It is probably true that plastic gun-making instructions can already be found somewhere in the dark reaches of the internet, where just about any information dangerous to the civilized world is available, including how to make a dirty nuclear bomb and mix up a batch of poison gas. That doesn’t make efforts to limit the availability of this lethal instructional material any less necessary.

If Wilson gets his way, terrorists and other bad actors will be able to simply Google “plastic guns” to get what they need to know—soon, no doubt, from YouTube instructional videos.

Plastic guns, by the way, are illegal. The federal Undetectable Firearms Act prohibits the ownership of guns that can pass unnoticed through metal detectors. Why, then, would the federal government not object to posting instructions on how to make these illegal weapons?

The federal government, in fact, did object at one time, barring Wilson from posting his gun plans when the Obama administration ruled it would violate export laws banning foreign distribution of firearms. The Trump administration abruptly reversed that restriction in July, which prompted the strenuous objections by the 21 states.

As for President Trump himself, he’s discussed the matter with the NRA and thinks making plastic guns available “doesn’t seem to make much sense.” Or so he said in a tweet.

That might be something less than a resounding condemnation of enabling terrorists to get plastic stealth guns, but it’s better than ho-hum.   


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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