The Corner

Guns Don’t Kill People, 3-D Printers Do

I have argued often that gun laws do not prevent criminals from obtaining guns and using them in the commission of illegal acts. But even I hadn’t considered quite how futile the effort to restrict firearms ownership is set to become. On Forbes, Mark Gibbs writes:

Given the recent appalling events in Aurora, Colorado, there’s been a renewed call for greater gun control and a ban on assault weapons.

I’m in favor of tighter gun control and a ban on weapons that are unnecessarily powerful but I’m afraid that technology will soon make any legislation that limits the availability of any kinds of guns ineffective.

To understand why this might happen, you need to understand a technology called 3D printing.

In 2007, I saw 3-D printing in action in Hollywood at a special effects studio. I was astonished. The artist, a friend of a friend, created a full 3-D model of a human bone on his screen and then and sent it to the printer, which then perfectly “carved” it out of plastic. 

So, can you print a gun? Yep, you can and that’s exactly what somebody with the alias “HaveBlue” did.

To be accurate, HaveBlue didn’t print an entire gun, he printed a “receiver” for an AR-15 (better known as the military’s M16) at a cost of about $30 worth of materials.

The receiver is, in effect, the framework of a gun and holds the barrel and all of the other parts in place. It’s also the part of the gun that is technically, according to US law, the actual gun and carries the serial number.

When the weapon was assembled with the printed receiver HaveBlue reported he fired 200 rounds and it operated perfectly.

HaveBlue uploaded his digital model to several 3D model archives and at least one, Makerbot, has since banned gun models but has allowed HaveBlue’s receiver model to remain in their  Thingiverse 3D object archive.

What’s particularly worrisome is that the capability to print metal and ceramic parts will appear in low end printers in the next few years making it feasible to print an entire gun and that will be when gun control becomes a totally different problem.

Will there be legislation designed to limit freedom of printing? The old NRA bumper sticker “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” will have to be changed to “If guns are outlawed, outlaws will have 3D printers.”

As the Internet has taught us, “Makerbot” may well ban gun models from its archive — but that will by no means prevent people from sharing the files via other channels. And, as per usual, if criminals wish to get hold of these models and print them out for their own use, they will. Still, expect to hear a lot of talk about “3-D model regulation” in the next few years and the inevitable question: Why does anybody need a 3-D printer?

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