Empire State strikes again with bill imposing background checks on printer purchases

(AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Call it the Oprah-fication of New York’s gun control regime. First we had background checks on all commercial gun sales. Then it was all transfers of firearms. More recently, the state has imposed background checks on all ammunition purchases, moving ahead despite the new system’s lengthy delays and false denials.

Now a bill has been introduced in the state Assembly that would require anyone purchasing common 3D printers to undergo a background check before taking possession.

A tip of the hat to the Firearms Policy Coalition for highlighting A08132, which as they note, would impose that background check requirement on anyone buying a 3D printer that could be used to assemble a home-built firearm.

Ass. Jennifer Rajkumar, the Democrat from Queens who introduced the legislation, claims that “three-dimensionally printed firearms, a type of untraceable ghost gun, can be built by anyone using an [sic] $150 three-dimensional printer” and that more than 600 such firearms were “taken off the streets of New York City in 2019.”

Rajkumar goes on to assert that imposing a background check on the retail sales of 3D printers would ensure that “three-dimensional printed firearms do not get in the wrong hands,” which is a real stretch. After all, despite all of New York’s existing gun control laws criminals are still able to get their hands on a gun without much hassle, so I doubt that requiring background checks on all 3D printers is going to make much of a difference.

If anything, Rajkumar’s bill would simply expand the underground market to 3D printers in addition to 3D printed guns, stolen firearms, and those illicitly obtained through a straw purchase. In all honestly, though, I doubt it would even do that.

A08132 suffers from several issues; some more obvious than others. First, who exactly is going to conduct these background checks? 3D printers aren’t generally sold at gun shops. You’re more likely to run across one at an electronics store (either online or a brick-and-mortar shop), and those establishments simply aren’t equipped to run a background check on their customers.

Under the bill as it is currently written, those retailers are supposed to contact the state’s Division of Criminal Justices Services every time someone wants to purchase a 3D printer that could possibly be used to print a component of a firearm, which would be almost every 3D printer on the market. The DCJS then has a full fifteen days to conduct a background check, though the bill is silent on what happens if the agency doesn’t get back to the retailer within that 15-day window, so that two-week waiting period could stretch out indefinitely without any chance of recourse on the part of the purchaser.

What happens if those retailers choose to ignore the background check requirement altogether? Based on what I’ve read in A08132, nothing. Rajkumar’s legislation says nothing about non-compliance, including any potential criminal or civil penalties. Instead, the legislation merely states that “no retailer shall sell any three-dimensional printer capable of printing a firearm unless the Division of Criminal Justice Services provides written notification of the determination” about the purchaser, leaving the consequences for doing so up in the air.

Perhaps the biggest issue with Rajkumar’s bill, however, is that being convicted of a felony or “serious offense” doesn’t justify being banned from possessing a 3D printer. Yes, it might be possible to print some components of a firearm with a common 3D printer, but that doesn’t mean that every person prohibited from possessing a firearm under state or federal law is going to buy a printer with the intent of making their own guns. How far is the state going to go in restricting the actions of prohibited persons here? You can make an improvised firearm with stuff you can pick up at your local hardware store. Does Rajkumar think that every purchase from a Lowe’s or Home Depot should have to go through a background check as well?

As always, the real issue isn’t the inanimate object, whether we’re talking about a gun, a bullet, or a printer. It’s the intent of the individual who possesses those items that matters most, and Rajkumar is utterly clueless if she thinks that imposing background check requirements on the purchase of a printer is going to stop the illicit trafficking in firearms, both homemade and those originally acquired in a retail transaction. We’ll be keeping a close eye on A08132 in the weeks ahead to see if it’s attracting any cosponsors, because the sad truth is that there are probably enough anti-gun zealots in Albany to actually enshrine this bit of idiocy into law once the 2024 session kicks off in a couple of months.