New California gun control bill aims at 3D printers... and code

(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Not all 3D printers, mind you. Just those that the state determines “has the primary or intended function of manufacturing firearms.” Under the language of AB 1089, anyone who uses a 3D printer or a CNC machine to make a gun in their own home would first have be licensed by the state as a firearms manufacturer. Sales of 3D printers and/or CNC machines with that primary or intended function of making guns would be banned throughout California, unless you could produce your manufacturer’s license, and existing owners would have to get rid of their machines or potentially face charges.


According to the text of the bill, those who possess one of these printers or CNC milling devices only have a few options if the bill becomes law.

(A) Sells or transfers the machine to a federally licensed firearms manufacturer or importer.
(B) Sells or transfers the machine to a person described in paragraph (1).
(C) Removes the machine from this state.
(D) Relinquished the machine to a law enforcement agency.
(E) Otherwise lawfully terminates possession of the machine.
How would the state define whether a printer or CNC machine falls under the provisions of AB 1089? As broadly as possible.
[A] CNC milling machine or three-dimensional printer has the primary or intended function of manufacturing firearms if the machine or printer is marketed or sold to the public in a manner that advertises that the machine or printer may be used to manufacture firearms, or in a manner that knowingly or recklessly promotes the machine’s use in manufacturing firearms, by individuals who are not California licensed firearms manufacturers, regardless of whether the machine or printer is otherwise described or classified as having other functions or as a general-purpose machine or printer.

It’s pretty clear that the intent of the bill is to block the sales of products like the GhostGunner CNC machine, but the legislation further infringes on civil liberties by making targeting anyone who shares a “digital firearm manufacturing code” used to produce an unserialized firearm.

An action may be brought against a person who, by any means, including the internet, knowingly distributes, or causes to be distributed, any digital firearm manufacturing code to any other person in this state.
(b) A person who distributes, or causes to be distributed, any digital firearm manufacturing code as described in subdivision (a) shall be strictly liable for any personal injury or property damage inflicted by the use of a firearm that was manufactured or produced using the digital firearm manufacturing code that was distributed.

That seems like it would not only be a nightmare to try to enforce, but would run headlong into some serious First Amendment concerns as well. As far as the federal courts are concerned, computer code is speech, and instructions on how to make a firearm should be protected by the First Amendment. The Anarchist Cookbook contains instructions on how to produce any number of prohibited items, and it and other derivative works remain available to purchase in California; though retiring U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein did call for the book to be “banned from the internet” back in 2015.

Clearly the authoritarian impulse is strong in California, and it’s not just limited to trying to infringe on the right to keep and bear arms. State lawmakers have already approved a law targeting the First Amendment rights of Second Amendment supporters, but AB 1089 manages to ignore the protections provided by both amendments in one single piece of legislation. The bill is currently slated for its first committee hearing in mid-March, but we’ll be keeping an eye on the legislation in case it starts moving sooner than that. In the meantime, I wouldn’t be surprised if sales of 3D printers and CNC machines to California residents actually increase in the short-term. Just like with bans on guns themselves, nothing spurs sales like the prospect of prohibition.


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