With all the negative talk about 3D printed guns, it’s no wonder companies are turning their backs on 3D printed weapons.
First it was trinkets, thingummies, and small whatchamacallits used to see how well the layer-by-layer 3D printer was able to replicate a given object. Then it became jewelry, shoes, artificial body parts, machinery components, plane parts and cell phone constituents. And now, it might seem that there is something in the water, what with people wanting to try the art of 3D printing at designing and customizing guns.
Would that mean more weapons than there already are? Would that mean more social violence? One thing it would mean is greater admittance to having guns. And cheaply, too.
Whenever there’s talk of how scientific inventions are affecting our socially defined outlooks and practices, the word “technology” does tend to become a pivot. Technological innovations have enabled people to infiltrate areas that have been shrouded by mystery, have helped give new vocabularies to our surrounding world, have made it possible for people to settle down to a 20th century life of bourgeois material comfort and have aided states and private groups to fight wars like they have never been fought in human history. Technology is apparently a waterfall whose temporality can never be safely foretold nor outlined by a fixed formula.
Every new technology brings with it a new debate on how wrong or right its effects may prove to be, about the kind of changes it molds our lives in. There are always ramifications of any further technological implement and its execution. There are always connotations to be mulled over.
A host of such considerations are running round the invention and the usability of the 3D printer since Cody Wilson uploaded printable gun plans to the web. A machine which literally prints objects into existence by extruding out molten raw material and dropping layer by layer to build the shape of the object like a puzzle, its latest ability to produce some gun components has run it into a burst of controversy.
The hubbub came when the State Department ordered DefCAD to take offline the instructions that told how to print gun parts using a 3D printer and then assemble them to form a handgun. A strong possibility of a breach of laws concerning the export of firearms was cited as reason for the order. Perhaps the instructions were the first of their nature to have appeared online.
What follows could be the first spark for major companies to decide about distancing themselves from 3D printed weapons, and why the present rumpus may just be the tip of an iceberg.
An independent gun craft.
3D printers have been compared to home computers. As was the case with computers, older models of 3D printers were hefty and not easily movable. With time, the printer gradually became capable of manufacturing ready-to-use end products, instead of only enabling an operator to set up a basic design prototype on a computer software.
One major area where designers and operators, having even a minimum technical edge, are trying to apply the abilities of 3D printers to is that of printing weapons. The results haven’t been stunning, yet what has been achieved up to now has caused many to sit up in their seats and take notice.
There are heavily circulating remarks in government circles about the gun making potential of 3D printers being a Pandora’s box because what they are finding is that people would have the opportunity to design, reproduce and customize practically any gun they could lay their hands on. Especially the ones most commonly found among the public, like assault rifles and guns that fire single shots at a time.
Some people have carried out the procedure of printing a gun at home and shot videos of their attempts at doing so and at using them. And it is being guessed that many more may already have begun putting their gun making craft to the test.
The Texan student and owner of DefCAD, Cody Wilson, who received the order from the State Department, says that if someone wants a design with which to work to be able to print their own gun, it’s out there waiting for them on the internet.
Although gunsmiths have been constructing gun components out of metal for a long time, the process has required a particular level of skill with machining. But now the path is clear for someone who may not be an expert skillsman to still accomplish the gun making feat, because the new portable home use 3D printers are easy enough for anyone to operate. One need not even go through the hassle of making the design file for the gun, with the help of easy-to-use software and thousands of pre-created design files to choose from on the web.
A forthcoming legal tangle?
Until now, bullets are the basic gun component that can’t be 3D printed, as the latest 3D printers work mostly with plastic as the raw material, and the inflammable powder found inside bullets can’t be prepared using such a printer.
According to the Democrat Representative, Steve Israel, gun parts can now be produced in basements from 3D printers and it won’t be too long before there will come a printer that would manufacture a gun made to fire actual bullets.
Although the experimenters maintain they don’t mean to promote illegal availability of weapons, legal analysts and personnel are expressing concerns that this seemingly harmless hobby might one day grow serious legal and social issues on a societal scale. One of the aspects most dreaded is how the trade of illegal weapons might be at the benefiting end of the stick from this.
The executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Josh Horwitz, happens to be sure in his place that down the line 3D gun printing is going to be a huge problem. What worries him most is that it can’t be foreseen how the mess is going to start in the first place and what specific directions it might take.
Yet the other experimenting side is of the firm opinion that things deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt and seen in ways not so purposefully narrow.
A gun invisible to metal detectors.
Software tester Chapman Baetzel uploaded his design files of gun parts that could be reproduced through plastic on his blog Ambulatory Armament Depot. He had uploaded previous designs to Thingiverse but the site would not allow their space to exhibit these particular types of designs. Thingiverse stated that the content of the design files ran against their policy of not allowing material that grants know-how about making weapons.
The counterclaim from the side of the experimenters was that the whole affair was not about making weapons in a criminal sense because 3D printers were hardly a choice option for making arms.
When Cody Wilson had published his gun printing and assembling instructions on his web site DefCAD, the US Representative Steve Israel stepped on his appeal to the Congress to pass the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act. The existing regulatory law on plastic guns, set to live out this year, doesn’t contain any ruling that may address plastic firearms that include homemade components like high-capacity magazines and lower receivers.
A formal statement declared that all security precautions and gun control laws would be worthless if criminals can print plastic weapons inside their homes and bring them through metal detectors unnoticed. Congressman Steve Israel said that unless the present law on weapons is extended to encompass the tenets of homemade 3D printed plastic guns, the security scanners in various departments would be pointless.
Even though the method of gun printing from a 3D printer is in its very infant stages, and technically there are fundamental hurdles in the manufacturing process, apprehensions regarding legal implications and copyright infringement are on the boil.
The makers who want to build upon the present plastic gun manufacturing procedure, trying to purge it of its inherent flaws, say that their objective is to expose that the age of the internet guarantees the public’s right to information. They want to raise the flag for offbeat craftsmanship and amateur techies who want to build a room for themselves outside the government and industry’s domination over new technology.
Yet, if government restrictions take rigid bends in the near future about exercising control over this kind of manufacturing, 3D printer companies would definitely be discouraged from being interested in printing any 3D weapons.