Homemade guns pose problem for new firearms law

A random video from YouTube shows the construction of a fairly sophisticated handgun.

Armament officials plan to destroy about 1,000 homemade firearms today, highlighting the black market in the illegal production of guns.

A proposed new firearms and explosives law forbids firearm production in Costa Rica, legal or otherwise. But making an illegal gun is cheap, and technology will make such activities easier.

The destruction of the weapons today will be one of those made-for-television events at the  Dirección General de Armamento in San Antonio de Coronado. Representatives of the Organization of American States will be there, as will court officials.

Homemade guns have not been a big issue among adults because factory-made weapons are so available even for illegal purposes.

The proposed weapons law, No. 18.050, that is in the last stages of approval in the Legislature prohibits anyone under 18 from having a firearm and prohibits anyone younger than 15 from even firing one.

Yet any youngster who wants a gun can easily find instructions on YouTube or other Internet resources. The homemade weapons range from a couple of pieces of tubing to sophisticated semi-automatic devices. The investment can be as low as $7, according to some YouTube videos. Some even use a rubber band as a firing mechanism.

Cheap, homemade weapons are not new. The famous British Sten machine gun of World War II fame was designed to be manufactured with low technology in anticipation of a German invasion of the island.

But there is a new wrinkle. The problem of making homemade guns with 3-D printers has become a matter of public concern, according to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Laws mean little if a determined criminal or a hobbyist teen wants to make plastic guns or extra-high capacity magazines, says Hod Lipson, a professor of engineering there and a pioneer in 3-D printing. He added in a university release:

“With a homemade 3-D printer, you can print a gun using ABS plastic, the same material that LEGOS are made out of. You can even use nylon, and that’s pretty tough,” he says. “You won’t be able to make a sniper rifle with a 3-D printer and it won’t shoot 10 rounds a second, but the gun you can make could be dangerous. And a high-capacity magazine is nothing more than a strong plastic box with a spring. It’s trivial to print.”

There are templates available on the Internet for gun parts.

Costa Rica’s proposed weapons law, indeed, most countries’ weapons laws, are based on marking and identifying firearms. There even is a network, eTrace, that tracks weapons by serial number. The United States allows hobbyists to build and register their own firearm, but assesses a $200 fee.

The proposed Costa Rican law has no such provision allowing home construction. Even repair shops would be licensed. In fact, except for sportsmen, the law restricts an individual to just one pistol or revolver. Also prohibited is reloading spent shells, knives with blades longer than about 4.75 inches and self-protection sprays of more than 30 grams content, Also prohibited are toys that look like real guns. Air guns delivering a BB bigger than 5.5 millimeters are treated as firearms. The typical Daisy BB is 4.5 millimeters.

The Internet also contains information on converting some toy guns to a firearm.

Penalties in the law range from 6 months to eight years. A citizen has an affirmative responsibility to report violations under penalty of prison.

Some who have testified at the legislature about the weapons bill expressed concern that the tight restrictions might stimulate black market deals.

As has been the case, only expats with permanent residency without condition can obtain the right to carry a weapon. And expats in the bar business will find out that the proposed law requires them to maintain a secure storage area for weapons of customers. Carrying a weapon in a bar or at a mass demonstration and some other locations is prohibited.

The proposed law also prohibits target shooting at informal ranges. A registered and licensed range must be used, it says.

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