In 2013, the United States became the first nation on the planet with more guns than people. A spike in gun violence since 2004 has inspired repeated calls for stricter gun control measures, but despite public sentiment, gun sales have increased.
In addition, 3D printing has been around since the 80s, but until recently the price of printers was prohibitive to consumers. With a number of new consumer printers on the market, however, the stakes are now even higher for gun control advocates. What do 3D printers have to do with gun control? When you can use one to print a working gun at home in a matter of hours — everything.
So Easy, You Can Do It Right at Home!
Compared to buying a gun or stealing one, printing a gun is an easy, discrete option that can be used over and over. While early printed guns lacked durability, more recent designs are capable of firing hundreds of rounds. There are even new bullets being designed specifically for use with printed weapons.
But should it be ok for people to print a weapon capable of killing with no regulation? The US Government thinks not, and they expressed that in 2013 when gun advocate Cody Wilson made the files needed to 3D print a handgun called the “Liberator” widely available for free online.
Wilson was forced to remove the files, but not before the instructions were shared over 100,000 times. If you remember the RIAA outrage over music file sharing in the early 2000s, you know just how difficult it can be to regulate the transfer of digital material. To think there aren’t more instruction sets trading hands even now is just naive.
Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel
It should be noted that most gun owners are peaceful law-abiding citizens, but with mass shootings increasing in frequency and the growing threat of terrorist acts on American soil, you have to question whether allowing just anyone to print a gun is a wise move.
Imagine the ease with which a terrorist cell operating in the states could amass a large weapons cache using this technology. Even a single would-be assailant, who might otherwise not have the means to get a gun, could build an untraceable weapon using their own or a friend’s printer.
Concerned politicians like congressman Steve Israel are making an effort to limit the spread of printed guns before it’s too late. Israel and other like-minded thinkers are working to promote the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, which would expand on one of the only existing gun laws on the books today.
Can Printed Guns Be Regulated?
The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 requires that any firearm be detectable by the types of security metal detectors present in airports. The weapon must appear as the equivalent of a 3.7 oz. piece of steel.
Crafty workarounds have thwarted the original act using removable chunks of metal, but Israel’s revised law would require the gun’s barrel and other essentials be made of metal. The updated law would also include special provisions designed to stop people from carrying 3D-printed weapons.
Another legal action that could potentially lessen the threat from printed guns is the newly-proposed ban on high-capacity magazines, which would outlaw clips with more than 10-round capacity. But while intentions are good, neither of these laws — even if they were to pass — attacks the issue at its source.
Out of Print
It’s not illegal to build a gun, but in the past, we’ve relied on the fact that it’s hard to do. For this reason, you don’t see throngs of people roaming the streets with homemade firearms of their own design. Now, however, anyone can get their hands on the printing instructions for a gun, as Cody Wilson proved.
We could outlaw 3D printing altogether, but that seems unlikely given the multitude of other, useful things one can make with a 3D printer. To prevent people from printing weapons, the very act of printing the weapon needs to be regulated, and online content control simply is not that advanced yet.
The answer may lie in the technology itself. Imagine a 3D printer smart enough to recognize when it is being asked to create a gun. If your DVD player can recognize a pirated disc, it would seem possible to create such software and make it mandatory in consumer products.
Even with such a countermeasure in place, though, someone would likely find a way to “unlock” their 3D printer. The increased level of difficulty might serve as deterrent enough for most would-be perpetrators, however.
The Responsible Thing to Do
Might it be that with 100+ guns per capita already on the streets of the USA, we’ve reached “maximum gun point?” As one pro-gun argument goes, it’s hard to imagine a reality where all guns on the streets today are effectively removed from society — but is that really the type of rhetoric we want to promote?
Theft, for instance, is a crime of opportunity. You don’t lock the door on your house because it makes getting in impossible — you do it to raise the level of difficulty enough that most people don’t see your home as an opportunity. We’re all safer in a country where no one is tempted by the opportunity of free guns.
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