David Zax

A View from David Zax

A 3-D Printed Gun

With 3-D printing poised to go mainstream, will we soon all be able to print a gun?

  • May 3, 2013

I don’t particularly care for guns. The first and last one I fired was a .22 rifle when I was 12 years old, at Camp Friendship summer camp in Virginia. I happen to be the sort that believes the world would be safer with fewer guns, not more.

But regardless of one’s political affiliation, there’s plenty to consider with the reported advent of a 3-D printed gun. The Texas-based Defense Distributed today claims to have produced the first fully 3D-printable pistol, report several outlets. (Forbes.com nabbed a picture.)

Cody Wilson, Defense Distributed’s founder, is a University of Texas law student. As Forbes puts it:

“Wilson’s group has sought to make as many components of a gun as possible into printable blueprints and to host those controversial files online, thwarting gun laws and blurring the lines between the regulation of firearms and information censorship. So far those pieces have included high capacity ammunition magazines for AR-15s and AK-47s, as well as an AR lower receiver, the body of that semi-automatic rifle to which off-the-shelf components like a stock and barrel can be attached.”

For now, the idea of a 3-D printed gun may just seem like a curio. But 3-D printing is becoming democratized. The technology is becoming cheaper, going mainstream even: you can get one at Staples, for $1,300. “One day every home may have one,” reckons the Guardian.

Once people own the means of production of guns in their homes, it will be all the easier for folks to acquire them, obviously. Forget that the efforts to create more stringent background checks failed in the Senate; the question may be altogether moot, one all it takes is a stray CAD file and the family’s 3-D printer.

In this future, Defense Distributed wants to be to gunfire what Wikipedia is to information.

Mainly, Wilson’s efforts highlight, once again, the ways in which technology inevitably moves faster than policy. In some cases, business itself is stepping in; the 3-D printing company Stratasys took back one of its devices from Defense Distributed last year when it learned what Wilson was up to. And CNET says that lawmakers are considering adding language on 3-D printing to the U.S. Undetectable Firearms Act. Wilson appears to have tried to sidestep that issue by including a six-ounce piece of steel in his gun designed to make the device detectable by metal detectors.

For a deeper dive on Wilson and the issues his technology raises, this documentary from Vice’s Motherboard is an excellent introduction.

If you’re one of the people stressed out rather than relieved by Wilson’s vision, in which guns are downloaded as easily as a torrent file, then you may be more heartened by news from a very different corner of the 3-D printing universe–a printable “bionic ear.” You may be needing sooner than you think, with all that deafening gunfire.

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