Let’s all freak out about 3D printed guns

Jesse Brown on why current fears are overblown

image: Defense Distributed (defdist.org)

So, our horrible dystopian future has arrived, and now any nut job in their basement can download and print a handgun off the Internet.

Any nut job that is, who also owns an industrial 3D printer, priced somewhere in the $8,000-$50,000 range. Said nut job will also have to carefully assemble the gun piece by piece, as each of the 16 parts must be printed separately, a process that takes days. They’ll then have to treat the barrel with an acetone bath. Then they’ll need live ammo (the 3D gun takes just one bullet), which can’t be printed. Then they’ll have to get within three feet of their target and hope that the silly plastic pistol doesn’t explode in their hand.

Or, they could just go buy a real gun.

There’s been much hysteria about “The Liberator,” the downloadable pistol that’s just been replicated by a team at the University of Toronto. But as it stands, The Liberator is a wildly impractical weapon, more a “proof of concept” than a real firearm. Anyone with malicious intent has lots of better options. A baseball bat, for example.

I know, I know; 3D printers are getting cheaper and cheaper, the designs for these weapons will get better and better, and it’s just a matter of time before the panic is justified and it will indeed be possible for anyone to easily make an untraceable gun.

So, is it time to get ahead of the trend and enact some new laws? Not really. We already have one. It’s illegal in Canada to manufacture a firearm without a license.

The real danger here is panic itself. The Huffington Post Canada calls 3D printing a “law enforcement nightmare” and The Globe and Mail casually reports that this “new technology is on the verge of making current policing approaches obsolete.” It sounds like criticism of our cops, but the quote could have come directly from the Association of Chiefs of Police. They’re constantly pleading their own obsolescence, demanding tough new laws that give police wider powers, while eroding our civil liberties.

Just as child porn was used as a reason why we needed Lawful Access legislation for police to monitor our web surfing, I expect 3D printed guns to be exploited as an excuse to load spyware on to 3D printers and monitor the CAD plans we download.

Of course, the police have other enforcement concerns, which the public may have less interest in and sympathy for. Namely, the mounting effort to stop Canadians from downloading content and from printing our own knock-off goods.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown




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Let’s all freak out about 3D printed guns

  1. 3D printing is in it’s infancy so we can’t say yet what it will or won’t do…anymore than the Vic 20 warned us about Wikileaks.

    But I’m betting we’ve seen the end of paper currency

    And economies based on manufacturing.

    • Funny you should mention the Vic 20 from 1980, the first 3D printers were made in 1984, so I’m not buying this, it’s in it’s infancy line, and there is a whole lot we do know about what it can do, search Dr Anthony Atala for medical applications, 3D printed organs try also 3D printed prosthetics. Metal 3D printers are already available and have been for a long time search laser metal sintering.

      And I love my MakerBot know exactly what it is and is not capable of.

      • Yeah, I know….I’ve been posting TED talks here for some time. But what I meant was that people didn’t foresee Wikileaks when they bought a Vic 20.

        Makerbots are at the Vic 20 stage though…if that. We had computers long before Vic 20 after all

        • There are many many other printers far more capable than the MakerBot, stop with this infancy phase idea the technology is about to turn 30 years old. You’re not giving it much credit for developing over the last 30 year. Once again MakerBot is entry level for home hobbyists there are plenty of other machines capable of producing fully functional moving assemblies in multiple materials.

          • What IS your problem…..? 3D is in it’s infancy compared to what it will become.

            So are computers for that matter.

          • The first computers were made in the 1950s. It took 30 years to get the Vic 20, and that’s rightly considered as personal computing being in its infancy.

            So if the first 3d printers were made in the 1980s, 30 years from then.. ie.. now.. would be exactly correct to consider them as being in their infancy.

          • Except, of course, that passage of a particular number of years is a fundamentally flawed basis on which to be concluding whether a technology is “in its infancy”.

          • No more flawed than any other basis that we can use before the entire lifecycle of the technology has concluded.

          • Number of years is irrelevant. If there isn’t any better predictor than ‘number of years passed’ then that means that this kind of prediction is a fool’s game. One doesn’t grade evidence ‘on a curve’.

          • So unless we have a great option, we shouldn’t bother with the ones we have?

            Okay then, what’s your indicator?

          • I have no indicator. Haven’t you been listening? Never mind.

          • Right. So what you’re saying is that you’re useless to this conversation. Thanks so much.

  2. hl mencken – Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

    • Not sure if you were ever a Star Trek fan. But I always loved the idea of the replicator’s they used for food. I can’t remember a single person at the time ever expressing any kind of fear of such a technology. Now that it’s close to becoming mainstream, people start to crap their pants because some kid in Texas spent a couple of years building a gun. These are the same people who are now terrified of pressure cookers, simply because they were used in the making of a bomb.

      • I don’t know much about 3D printing but I thought similar – it sounds a lot like people will have replicators in their homes/offices and that’s good news. Innovation should improve.

        I use to make potato gun when I was teenager and the gun UofT profs made using 3D printing sounds similar to what we use to make but it was quicker and easier.

  3. It would probably be easier to actually machine the parts with metal than doing it with a 3D printer. You know what else you could 3D print? Bomb parts. Probably even a pressure cooker.

    Of course there will be hysterics from certain segments of society when any new technology comes around. In this case there will be massive manufacturing interests that should be shaking in their boots that their production lines are going to be worthless in a few years. We’re not far from a future where we’ll all just show up at a 3D printing kiosk at the mall, hand them a CAD file, and come back a few hours later and whatever we wanted will be waiting for us. Hell, within a few years most of us will probably know someone who has a desktop 3D printer at home.

    Then again, maybe the naysayers are right. There are already people who are 3D printing 3D printer parts, so maybe someone will just let that loose in a small factory somewhere in North Korea and start building a massive drone army. So once the 3D printers have taken over our economies, they’ll be able to slaughter all of us humans off.

    We’re DOOMED!

    • Most of the first 3D printer kits which you assembled and built your 3D printer from included plans and necessary files to print parts for your second, third, fourth and so on, printers. But we’re talking about the likes of the RepRap’s and early MakerBots.

  4. This is amazing tech… I for one am incredibly excited to see where it leads… the practical applications will be far greater then the few “exploitable” ones… let’s face it, a determined crazy person will always find a way, but we can’t let them hold us all back.

  5. The reaction to 3D printing of a simple firearm is a silly over reaction. If a person wanted a simple handgun they could make one in their basement out of pipe fittings and plywood in a couple of hours, faster and better than 3D printing. Could it be that the police are promoting fear of this technology to gain further power to monitor internet activities?

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