In an NPR poll conducted early this year, 94 percent of Americans responded that they supported background checks for all gun buyers and 92 percent agreed with “adding people with mental illnesses to the federal gun background check system.”
But last week the State Department settled a 5-year-long suit with Defense Distributed, a Texas nonprofit that provides blueprints for numerous firearms including AR-15’s. An individual with access to a sophisticated enough 3-D printer could build these guns without passing a background check. “All 3D-printed guns will be untraceable,” writes USA Today, “and since you can make them yourself, no background check is required.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on PBS News Hour sees the dangerous connection:
“We have laws in place in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that say, if you want to buy a gun, you have got to go through a background check, you have got to be of a certain age, just two examples of what our laws are.
Why should someone who would fail our standards here in Pennsylvania, who wouldn’t qualify to be able to buy a gun, be able to simply download one and print it out with this same printer that exists in the Philadelphia school district that the school district bought for $140? That simply is nonsensical.
It doesn’t make sense. And it is a public safety risk if we allow this to go forward.”
President Trump hasn’t affirmed Shapiro’s concerns, but used similar wording in a tweet on Tuesday July 31st, “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
But what about the overarching issue that 3-D guns raise: background checks?
On this subject, the President argued in favor this past February but cautiously reversed course only days later. Explaining his position in March, "Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump supports “not necessarily universal background checks, but certainly improving the background check system.”
American opinion is nearly unanimously in favor of background checks for all gun buyers, and this sentiment conflicts directly with the vision of Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson. In his words, “the future we imagine is one of personalized manufacture and access to objects. ... In this future, people will be able to make guns for themselves.” Most Americans would likely disagree.
Will the President use his sway in the Republican Party to pressure Congress to match gun policy with nationwide public opinion? It's hard to see that happening. President Obama notably did not strengthen background checks while the Democrats had majorities in both the House and the Senate. In presidential elections, national opinion, including the strong support for background checks, does not matter. Presidential candidates are only concerned with swing voters in a handful of swing states, voters who may or may not share the general public’s sentiments on public safety. But shouldn’t the majority of Americans' vision for the future matter? After all, they have to live it in too.