1st 3-D printed gun case poses challenges for law

YOKOHAMA-Kanagawa prefectural police suspect that a man arrested on Thursday for allegedly possessing two plastic guns had obtained blueprints for a handgun from the Internet and made the guns by himself with a 3-D printer.

Legal experts said their greatest concerns have become reality in this first case of an alleged violation of Japan's strict gun control laws involving 3-D printed guns. They stressed the need to develop regulations to meet the technological advances in 3-D printers.

Suspect Yoshitomo Imura, 27, of Takatsu Ward, Kawasaki, began working for a science university in Kanagawa Prefecture as a contract employee in April. A vocational high school graduate, Imura has technical qualifications, including lathe skills. However, he has never used a 3-D printer at the university either for his job or for personal reasons, according to the university.

"The case has shaken the very foundations of the nation's gun control laws," said Nobuo Komiya, a professor at Rissho University who specializes in gun-related crimes.

In principle, Japanese laws strictly forbid manufacturing and possessing guns, according to Komiya. However, 3-D printers have enabled anyone to make a gun. If 3-D printed guns are mass-produced, the situation could grow out of control under just the existing laws, Komiya said.

However, it is difficult to determine how many 3-D printers are in the nation and how well they perform, he added. Some experts think it should be made illegal to obtain blueprints and other data on handguns.

"Industries related to 3-D printers should formulate their own rules to prevent misuse of the machines," said Masahiro Sugawa, an associate professor at Niigata University who specializes in information law and researches laws related to 3-D printing. "That's the first measure that should be taken."

A 3-D printer is a machine used to create 3-D objects. Based on such data as designs read by personal computers, it deposits heated resins and other melted materials in very thin layers-about 0.01 millimeters thick-to produce objects. Lower-priced 3-D printers are available for about ¥100,000 (S$1,226.60).