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Owning digital plans to 3D-print guns without licence to be made a crime after new Bill passed

Owning digital plans to 3D-print guns without licence to be made a crime after new Bill passed

A Liberator pistol appears on Jul 11, 2013 next to the 3D printer on which its components were made. (Photo: AFP/Robert MacPherson)

SINGAPORE: Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 5) passed a Bill that would make owning digital blueprints of a gun or gun part without licence illegal. 

Under the new Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill, anybody who wants to manufacture a gun or a major part of a gun using a 3D printer or electronic milling machine will need a licence. Without a licence, the possession of a digital blueprint of such objects will be deemed an offence.

“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,” said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan.

“To be clear, the intent is not to target persons who genuinely have no knowledge and could not reasonably be expected to have known that he or she possessed the digital blueprint for making a gun. For example, a person who merely browses out of curiosity and finds on the Internet a gun blueprint and the blueprint is only temporarily stored in the browser cache.”

An example of possession is when a person in Singapore "physically possesses a storage device containing such a blueprint" or when a person "stores a blueprint outside Singapore, such as in an overseas cloud storage device", said Mr Tan. 

The Bill will replace the Arms and Explosives Act, the Explosive Substances Act and the Dangerous Fireworks Act, and make amendments to other guns, weapons and explosives-related Acts, said Mr Tan.

The Bill was passed on Tuesday after a debate in which 11 Members of Parliament (MPs) from both sides of the House participated.

“The Bill reinforces the Government’s position that any handling of GEW (guns, weapons and explosives) is a privilege that is conditioned on the overriding need to ensure we meet the objective of public safety and security, and that strict controls are required to achieve this objective,” Mr Tan explained during the second reading of the Bill.

In his speech, MP Melvin Yong noted that it is important to bear in mind the “small but sizeable” number of replica gun hobbyists in Singapore.

“While gun replicas are harmless on its own, the high resemblance to real guns can cause a lot of undue fear and alarm, especially to vulnerable people such as the elderly and children,” Mr Yong said.

“Many replica gun hobbyists are deeply private and most pursue their passion quietly. However, just as 3D printing technology gives criminals the ability to produce their own guns, it would also allow these hobbyists to 3D-print their own gun replicas.”

As such, Mr Yong asked if the Bill would criminalise the possession of digital blueprints for gun replicas and whether there are plans to engage gun replica hobbyists so that there is “flexibility” for them to pursue their passion within a “safeguarded space”.

In his response, Mr Tan said that it was important to ensure that the law would not be "overreaching".

"On replica guns, while we agree that they can potentially be used to cause alarm, they cannot be used to cause physical harm per se and therefore ...  pose lower risks. 

"But if such guns are used while committing certain offences such as during robbery or extortion, an offence would be made out under the the Arms Offences Act, along with the Penal Code offences for the main criminal act."

Mr Tan also noted that imitation guns are not considered guns for the purpose of the Bill and the possession of 3D blueprints for the manufacturing of such items will not require a specific licence under the Bill.

The new legislation will also not impact Nerf gun enthusiasts, he added. 

"Off-the-shelf Nerf guns are clearly meant for recreational purposes and present little risk. Given the projectiles are foam-based and are unlikely to cause injury if used properly, MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) does not regulate Nerf guns today and does not plan to do so at this juncture," he said. "Correspondingly the possession of any blueprint of Nerf gun parts will not be regulated."

A GROWING INDUSTRY

Technology is posing an “increasing challenge” to effective enforcement against crimes involving guns, explosives and weapons, said Mr Tan. 

“The Internet has significantly facilitated the trafficking and manufacture of GEW (guns, explosives and weapons). One can easily get online, and access materials and instructions to manufacture GEW. There are lethal forms of GEW that can be purchased over the Internet,” he said.

Mr Tan explained that there is a need to “optimise” enforcement resources to better regulate a “growing industry”.

READ: Man jailed for making and shooting airguns with metal parts from company workshop

READ: Ex-auxiliary police officer jailed for culling crows with shotgun without safety officer present

For one, he pointed out that the Arms and Explosives Act was last amended in 2007 to introduce regulation for explosive precursors. Since then, the total number of GEW licences has more than doubled from around 2,000 in 2010 to more than 4,000 in 2020.

"Every licence requires resources to vet the licensee and to conduct inspections,” he added. “The police, who are the regulators under the AEA, need to be able to regulate this growing pool of licensees effectively.”

The new Bill will also increase the maximum fines for unlicensed activities involving guns and explosives from S$10,000 to S$50,000 for individuals and S$100,000 for entities. These will match the maximum fines for unlicensed activities involving explosive precursors.

There will also be higher fines for offences related to prohibited guns, explosives and weapons - up to $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for entities.

“These are items which are identified as particularly dangerous or may be more readily concealed and would be particularly suited to unlawful use,” said Mr Tan. “For example, certain types of automatic guns commonly used by terrorists, which are highly dangerous and clearly have no legitimate use. No licence will be granted for the handling of these items.”

Under the new Bill, authorised third parties can do “low-risk” compliance checks, allowing the police to focus on high-risk guns, weapons and explosives, said Mr Tan.

“Currently, all licensing compliance checks are performed by police officers regardless of the risk posed by the GEW. There is scope to use our limited police resources more optimally,” he said. “Our intent is to delegate checks on low-risk items, such as certain weapons and air guns, to qualified persons.”

READ: Changes afoot to cut long working hours of security officers but manpower crunch remains

Speaking in Parliament, Workers’ Party MP Sylvia Lim pointed out that the powers and responsibilities of compliance officers were “not trivial”.

“Under part six of the Bill, compliance officers will be empowered to check licensees for compliance, including inspection of premises, asking for information and explanations, stopping vehicles in transit and so on. 

"These are potentially confrontational situations at locations where guns and weapons are kept,” she said.

As such, she asked why the minimum age for such officers was set at 18 years.

In his response, Mr Tan said that compliance officers will be required to undergo training and assessment by the police licensing officer.

"Only qualified compliance officers will be authorised to conduct site inspections on behalf of the licensing officer. In addition, they will not be allowed to exercise more intrusive enforcement powers ... The police licensing officer will also conduct audit checks on compliance officers to ensure that they are proficient in carrying out their duties," he said.

"Given these safeguards and in line with the minimum age for other security-related work such as security officers, MHA has assessed that the minimum age of 18 is appropriate, and there is no need to set a higher minimum age at this juncture."

There will also be a new licensing regime for “low or moderate-risk users and activities” involving guns, weapons and explosives.

In his speech, Mr Tan noted that Singapore has consistently been ranked as one of the safest countries in the world. This is in part due to “stringent” laws to regulate guns, explosives and other weapons, he said.

“People feel safe walking alone at night. Violent crimes involving weapons are few and far between, and attacks involving guns and explosives are extremely rare. This did not happen by chance,” he said.

“Our highly safe and secure environment is, in large part, attributable to the stringent laws that we have put in place to regulate dangerous articles such as guns, explosives and other weapons, and the criminalising of unlawful actions involving these items.”

However, Mr Tan said it was important not to take the safety and security situation for granted, adding that the threat of an extremist attack remains very real.

“I cannot emphasise enough that the safety and security that we currently enjoy in Singapore should never be taken for granted,” he said.

“In this regard, the Bill seeks to ensure that our regulatory framework remains robust to deter and prevent the misuse and mishandling of GEW, which can have very serious consequences for our safety and security, while respecting the need to allow legitimate uses for some GEW.”

Source: CNA/mt(hs)

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