It would involve a much more active government presence on the Internet, too. Back in May, authorities forced Defense Distributed to remove from its website the digital blueprints for its plastic 3-D-printable gun. The group complied, but not before the plans had been downloaded 100,000 times and shared not only on sympathetic websites but across distributed peer-to-peer networks. How, precisely, does the state intend to stop this from happening in the future? Is it going to introduce a filter through which all traffic must pass — perhaps one of the sort that is in place in Iran and China? Might it require the manufacturers of 3-D printers to prevent the printing of certain shapes? Or report to the police anybody who does so?
And where is the line? Federal law holds that Americans may build at home as many firearms as they want, as long as they do not build — or sell — anything that is illegal or that they are not licensed to pass on. The gun that Solid Concepts printed in metal was a pretty standard handgun, of the sort that is clearly protected by the Heller
decision and legal in every state in the union. Why would Congress make it illegal for this gun to be printed at home but not make it illegal for amateur gun manufacturers to produce firearms using a different technique? Because more people can potentially do the former? Both processes provide the opportunity for serious violations of the law. Why move to do away completely with one and not the other?
America has been here before. Back in 1995, a greatly worried Chuck Grassley told the U.S. Senate that “there is a flood of vile pornography” online and that the government should “act to stem this tide.” In the abstract, Americans may well disagree as to the appropriateness of government action in this area, but they cannot credibly disagree that Grassley’s proposal now looks astonishingly naïve. In 2013, 28,000 Internet users view pornography every second, and the archipelago of sex has grown so extensive that 266 new porn websites appear each day, joining the 14 percent of all Web searches and 4 percent of all websites that feature pornographic material. Given that they operate on precisely the same principle, once the cost of hardware comes down, there is no reason to think that 3-D-printed firearms — or 3-D-printed anything — will be any different. That genie, I’m afraid, is out of the bottle. America might as well embrace it.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.