Guns made with a 3D printer, or “ghost guns,” have no serial number and are made almost entirely out of plastic, but the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is confident it can prevent them from getting past airport security.
“We have detection capabilities that are proven, and we actually have a record of detecting and catching these guns at the checkpoint,” Michael Bilello, the Assistant Administrator of Public Affairs at the TSA, told The Globe Post.
The blueprints for 3D-printable guns were made available for download in 2013 by Cody Wilson, the owner of Defense Distributed, a defense technology development company. Wilson was told by the federal government to take the blueprints down.
The Trump administration, however, allowed Wilson to re-upload his blueprint. A federal judge ruled Tuesday that it was illegal for the blueprints to be online and they had been taken down for the time being, but thousands of people were able to download them before they were taken down.
I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2018
Currently, eight states are suing the Trump administration for allowing these guns to be made available, and 20 State Attorneys General have signed a letter for the State Department urging them to intervene.
There have been four incidents since August of 2016 in which the TSA has detected 3D-printed guns. Three of them were detected during checkpoint screenings with the other during a TSA precheck. Once found, all of the items were “voluntarily abandoned.”
“Once we knew this was coming to market, there was a possibility that it would come to checkpoints,” Bilello said. “We immediately put a lot of new protocols, a lot of new procedures in place.”
In July 2017, the TSA began implementing heightened security measures which require electronics bigger than a cell phone to be taken out of bags and put in a separate bin when going through security.
On Monday, the TSA announced a rollout plan for computed tomography (CT) scanners which will allow for better images of the contents of bags when going through security.
“The system applies sophisticated algorithms for the detection of explosives and creates a 3-D image that can be viewed and rotated on three axes for thorough visual image analysis by a TSA officer,” said the TSA in a press release.
— TSA (@TSA) July 30, 2018
3D-printed guns are allowed to be transported in checked baggage in accordance with federal regulations, but there are no accounts of them getting past a metal detector.
Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University, warned, however, that 3D-printed guns can come in a variety of shapes, and it can make the job of the TSA more difficult.
“It’s really just a matter of them [TSA] being able to figure out what the gun looks like, but that may be problematic in that you can print guns in a variety of shapes and sizes that are not metal,” he told The Globe Post. “Then it becomes a question of whether or not the TSA would be able to pick those up in luggage checks.”