Unconstitutional: The “Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988”

Yesterday, in response to fears from gun control advocates over 3-D printed firearm blueprints becoming more widely available today, the NRA posted a tweet noting that the organization helped pass a federal gun control measure called The “Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988.”

The legislation was passed by the Federal House with a vote of 413-4. It then passed the Senate with an amendment by a voice vote. The House agreed with the Senate, unanimously.

The Act was Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 10, 1988.

It was unconstitutional from day one.

Yesterday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the re-release of downloadable blueprints for 3D-printed firearms. A significant part of the reasoning is the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988:

Guttenberg and others worry lax control of plastic guns is a public-safety issue and would sidestep current regulations, providing criminals and terrorists with “guns that can’t be flagged by metal detectors, don’t have serial numbers to trace and don’t require the usual background checks.”

I’m not aware of any organization that has successfully lobbied for and helped pass more federal gun control measures than the NRA. They’ve backed the National Firearms Act of 1934, the NICS, the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 – and probably a few more too.


On May 5, 2015 Defense Distributed made public the 3D printable files for the world’s first fully 3D printable gun, the Liberator .380 single shot pistol.

The State Department immediately came down hard on Defense Distributed and the files were taken down, but not before the pirates were able to step in!

In just 2 days, there was a bit of a Streisand effect –  it was downloaded more than 100,000 times, and by the time the file was removed from Defense Distributed’s websites, it had already appeared on the Pirate Bay and other torrent sites, where they’re impossible to erase.

Just weeks after the liberator files went online, a guy in Wisconsin took the original design and turned it from a single-shot into an 8 round gun. A few weeks after that, another person printed a rifle.Now there are other sites like FOSSCad and GrabCAD that have continued to evolve the Liberator’s design and share their own blueprints for 3-D printable revolvers and rifle.

Thanks to Cody Wilson at Defense Distributed – and other heroic people willing to stand up for their rights without federal permission – this unconstitutional federal act can be rendered moot, whether the government wants it to happen or not.

About Tenth Amendment Center
The Tenth Amendment Center is a national think tank that works to preserve and protect the principles of strictly limited government through information, education, and activism. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of state and individual sovereignty issues, focusing primarily on the decentralization of federal government power as required by the Constitution. For more information visit the Tenth Amendment Center Blog.

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