Gun policy can’t keep up with technology, but we must try

Cody Wilson shows the first completely 3D-printed handgun, The Liberator, at his home in Austin, Texas.
Cody Wilson shows the first completely 3D-printed handgun, The Liberator, at his home in Austin, Texas. TNS file photo, 2013

Government’s job is to keep the public safe. That’s why we have crosswalks, the Federal Aviation Administration and meat inspectors. On this, most everyone agrees.

But then there’s gun reform. Mention those two words in mixed company and prepare to duck for cover.

Today, two counterforces are active in the realm of firearms. One aims to open the floodgates like never before — think assault weapons available via internet download.

The other, embodied by a Washington state initiative recently certified for the November ballot, is on a quest to dam the flow in the name of public safety.

We reject the first and give a thumbs-up to the second. But technology moves at a frenetic speed that runs circles around public policy, regardless of whether that policy comes from citizens or elected officials.

That’s why a Washington judge intervened last week, and why courts must remain vigilant.

How about a “ghost” gun made in the comfort and privacy of your own home? No, we haven’t tapped into the fantasy of some daydreaming NRA disciple.

Pretty soon anyone with $400 could conceivably buy a 3D printer and produce untraceable, hard-plastic guns. They come without serial numbers, age requirements or pesky government dos or don’ts.

The first 3D gun successfully test-fired in 2013 was dubbed “the Liberator.” The name says everything you need to know about the philosophy behind it.

Perhaps one day, a tech genius will enable humans who are deficient in common sense to print that from the internet.

Cody Wilson, founder of Texas-based Defense Distributed, doesn’t want the government telling him or any other American how and when they can purchase a firearm.

After making his first prototype, he publicized the blueprints online at no charge.

The Obama Administration wisely saw trouble in weapons that could go undetected in airport security equipment. Using an obscure law pertaining to weapons exports, the State Department made Wilson remove his downloadable blueprints.

But under the Trump Administration, the Justice Department sees things differently, and it recently granted Wilson permission to disseminate his plans.

Enter Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who wants to save our state, nay our nation, from any and all rogue garage gunsmiths.

His sentiment is in the right place, though he may live to regret these words: “If the Trump Administration won’t keep us safe, we will.” (Mind the cape, Bob. Mind the cape.)

Ferguson, along with eight other Democratic state attorneys general and the District of Columbia, are suing the Trump administration.

In Seattle on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik wasted no time granting an injunction against release of the blueprints. Wilson was set to release them Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Washington Sen. Patty Murray is co-sponsoring a bill to halt the online publication of 3D weapons, calling them a “direct rebuke to the health and safety of children and families nationwide.”

Good luck moving that through a Republican-controlled Congress in the thrall of the NRA.

Wilson and supporters see attempts to block the blueprints as a violation of the First Amendment as well as the Second.

It gets our attention when anyone suggests the government should police plans or ideas. But we’ll stand with Ferguson, Lasnik and Murray on this one: 3D guns are an imminent risk to public safety.

In a country where 10,000 firearm homicides occur every year, the U.S. is already awash in weapons, legal and otherwise.

That’s why the Alliance for Gun Responsibility got behind state Initiative 1639.

I-1639 would establish tougher background checks and require gun owners to secure all firearms; it also imposes training requirements and raises the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic weapon to 21 from 18.

It’s been called the most far-reaching gun-related measure in the last four years, and it was made necessary by inaction from the 2018 Legislature.

If history is our guide, gun reform will have to come via citizen initiative, a process put in Washington’s Constitution more than a century ago for contentious times like these. It seems only the power of the people can supersede the tangled web of special interests and political gridlock in Olympia.

But this initiative, as ambitious as it is, is no match for new technology.

Welcome to the brave new world.