Locally, the new year began with a chilling story – one involving the murder of a Pawtucket woman with a weapon rarely encountered by law enforcement.
Cheryl Smith, 54, was rushed to the hospital Jan. 1 after being shot multiple times at her home. Soon after, two people – 23-year-old Jack Doherty of Albany, New York, and 18-year-old Shaylyn Moran of Pawtucket, a former girlfriend of Smith’s son – were arrested and charged in the killing.
The 9mm handgun used in the slaying appears to have been made using parts created with a 3D printer. Authorities say Facebook postings linked to the suspects seem to show stages of the weapon’s assembly.
The case, according to law enforcement and other officials, marks the first known instance of a 3D printed weapon being used in a murder.
“This is something we have not come across,” Pawtucket Detective Sgt. Christopher LeFort told Amanda Milkovits of the Boston Globe in the wake of the killing. The director the state’s crime lab, meanwhile, has said the weapon is the first of its kind that the lab has been asked to investigate.
In the wake of the incident, and with the General Assembly back in session, lawmakers have again brought forward proposed legislation seeking to clamp down on 3D printed firearms and so-called “ghost guns” – weapons that are created without serial numbers, making them extremely difficult for law enforcement personnel to trace.
According to a press release, the proposal – sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Coyne and Rep. Patricia Serpa – “would prohibit the possession, manufacturing or selling of 3D printed firearms, ‘ghost guns’ and other untraceable or undetectable firearms in Rhode Island.” Violations would be punishable by prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to $10,000.
The same bill passed the state Senate last year but did not forward in the House. At the outset of the new session, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello expressed new openness to gun control legislation, while other high-ranking lawmakers – including Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Sens. Erin Lynch Prata and Michael McCaffrey – are cosponsoring Coyne’s proposal.
Coyne and Serpa note in their release that banning 3D printed guns was among the recommendations made by the Rhode Island Working Group for Gun Safety, which was assembled in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018.
While this month’s Pawtucket murder may represent a first for law enforcement, 3D weapons have made headlines in Rhode Island before. In December 2018, federal authorities charged a Cranston man living aboard a houseboat in Pawtuxet Cove with creating and selling a “ghost gun” to an undercover ATF agent.
We are wholly supportive of the current legislative effort to ban such weapons and urge all members of the General Assembly to back the bills submitted by Coyne and Serpa.
We believe this matter should be considered outside the usual parameters of debates over gun control and Second Amendment rights. It has nothing to do with restricting access to firearms through established, lawful processes. Rather, it is focused on confronting a new, particularly troubling threat – one with profound security implications across our society, from classrooms to airports.
As Serpa states in the press release: “These homemade, undetectable guns are easily made by anyone with even a little bit of technical ability. While I am a strong proponent of people’s right to bear arms, these devices simply lack the safety, reliability and accountability of conventional firearms and have become a menace to society.”
In a rapidly changing world, technology has outpaced the law in many ways. This legislation from Coyne and Serpa seeks to bridge that gap in an especially vital area, and we hope their colleagues will see the same need for action.