There are a lot of vague laws. For example, if you own a computer numerical control (CNC) machine and use it to build a firearm you’re legally in the clear so long as you can legally possess the firearm where you live. However, if you let somebody else use the machine are you still in the clear? You can legally manufacturer your own firearm so long as you don’t transfer it but what constitutes manufacturing your own firearm? This is one of those legal gray areas that one should be careful about operating in:
According to investigators, Crowninshield, known online as “Dr. Death,” would sell unfinished AR-15 lower receivers, which customers would then pay for him to transform into fully machined lower receivers using a computer numerically controlled (CNC) mill. (In October 2014, Cody Wilson, of Austin, Texas, who has pioneered 3D-printed guns, began selling a CNC mill called “Ghost Gunner,” designed to work specifically on the AR-15 lower.)
“In order to create the pretext that the individual in such a scenario was building his or her own firearm, the skilled machinist would often have the individual press a button or put his or her hands on a piece of machinery so that the individual could claim that the individual, rather than the machinist, made the firearm,” the government claimed in its April 14 plea agreement.
CNC machines add a new twist to manufacturing. Instead of being required to learn how to use a series of tools a person can now download specifications, place a raw block of material in a machine, press a button, and grab a coffee while they wait for the machine to finish doing its thing. Crowninshield decided that if he had his customer press the button that started the milling process then they would legally be manufacturing the firearm. I agree with that interpretation but since he plead guilty we don’t know what the courts think of that interpretation.
The lesson this story teaches is that one needs to be careful when operating in legal gray areas. Although you’re at risk of being arrested and charged for anything you do, you’re at especially high risk when the law isn’t clear about whether your activity is legal or illegal.