License required for 3D-printed guns under guns, explosives & weapons control bill

The bill will also enhance the penalties for offences related to guns and explosives.

Matthias Ang | January 06, 2021, 12:58 PM

A license will be required for any person who intends to manufacture a gun or part of it through the means of a 3D printer or an electronic milling machine.

As such, possession of the digital blueprints of a gun or part of it will also be considered an offence, regardless of whether the blueprint is stored within Singapore, or in a storage device outside of the country.

Speaking at the second reading of a Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill in Parliament on Jan. 4, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said:

"Today, a person could easily find on the Internet, materials for gun making, and manufacture a fully workable gun using a 3D printer and a gun blueprint taken from the Internet.

As a case in point, in 2019, a shooter in Germany had brought along guns with components that were manufactured using 3D printing. Those guns were eventually not used to carry out the attack, but were his backup arsenal."

Tan clarified that this would not apply to a person who genuinely had no knowledge, and could not reasonably be expected to have known, that he or she was in possession of a digital blueprint for making a gun.

This includes people who browse such information online out of curiosity, and find gun blueprints which is then stored in their browser cache.

Bill will also make it an offence to operate a shooting or paintball range without a license

The requirement is part of a broader set of changes that were put forward under the bill, which also seeks to replace the Arms and Explosives Act, the Explosive Substances Act and the Dangerous Fireworks Act.

Other amendments include:

  • Raising the maximum fines for gun and explosive offences to S$50,000 for individuals and S$100,000 for entities, to match the fines fines for unlicensed activities involving explosive precursors (EPs).
  • Treating a person in possession of a drone with a weapon or explosive, even if the drone is remotely-controlled, as though he or she was in possession of the weapon itself.
  • Classifying dangerous fireworks as explosives.
  • Making it an offence to operate a shooting or paintball range without a license.
  • Granting powers to Licensing Officers to authorise third parties to do low-risk compliance checks, so as to allow the regulator to focus on explosives, guns and weapons that are considered high-risk.

Additional powers for Minister for Home Affairs

The Bill also empowers the Minister for Home Affairs to prescribe certain weapons as prohibited arms (e.g. certain types of automatic guns used by terrorists), which carry heavy fines for offences.

It also allows the Minister to issue security directions, if a more expedient response is needed than modifying existing licensing conditions.

In such a situation, where there is imminent threat to life or property, the Minister may direct people with licenses and even those exempted from the bill to immediately put in place enhanced measures, or to temporarily suspend, cease or scale down their activities for a period of time.

Tan said that the bill reinforces the government's position that any handling of GEW (guns, explosives, weapons) is a privilege subject to the conditions of ensuring public safety and security.

Proposed license requirement for 3D-printed guns finds support from both WP and PAP

Members of Parliament Sharael Taha of the People's Action Party (PAP) and Jamus Lim of the Workers' Party (WP) subsequently voiced their support for the bill, in particular for the requirement of a license for a 3D-printed gun.

However, both also highlighted what they saw as potential limitations.

Sharael voiced his concern over how the digital blueprints of offensive weapons such as knuckledusters, and daggers were not covered, and also suggested that the bill should be expanded to cover gun modifications and attachments such as silencers and scopes.

He also pointed out that 3D-printed guns were unserialised and therefore untraceable, while manufacturing guns with plastic could make them undetectable by metal detectors.

On this point, he was echoed by Lim, who pointed out that a gun printed with "non-standard materials" will be increasingly undetectable with "usual screening devices."

In addition, the excess of 1.4 million 3D printers worldwide means that the ease of obtaining the electronic blueprint for a weapon and independently printing a gun is increasingly "trivial", Lim added.

Both MPs thus brought up the need to better help the community as a means of addressing the proliferation of such items.

Sharael asked if there is a role family members could play to identify radicalised individuals early on, and suggested providing safe and anonymous whistle-blowing channels.

Lim pointed out that diminishing inequality and eliminating poverty can help to reduce crime, and suggested looking to see if there was room to boost spending on welfare and social services, and re-examine existing expenditure on domestic security services.

The bill has since been read for a third time as of Jan. 5.

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