3D Printing and the Future of Gun Control

I happened to just come across the following article and it got me thinking.

3D-printed gun files pulled offline at State Department’s request

Apparently a man named Cody Wilson developed a rather nifty set of 3D printing files for a very basic and low-powered plastic hand gun.  After making the files available for public download, Wilson was asked by the State Department to remove the files from his site because they may be in violation of the International Traffic in Arms regulations (ITAR), which is essentially legislation aimed at preventing blacklisted countries from getting arms or munitions designs.

What’s interesting here is the role of 3D printing in this story.  3D printing, by and large, very well could be the future of manufacturing in just about any–and possibly nearly every–field.  The technology has already yielded interesting results in large-scale items like this plane as well as items on the atomic scale such as this technique for printing embryonic stem cells.  I have seen mention of 3D printing being used in hypothetical construction of habitable spaces on the moon as well as various applications in nano-technology.  It is everywhere, and it is getting cheaper.

So of course, eventually the ability to print 3D objects that fall into a category of controversy was bound to happen. This article as well was published back in February of this year.  Now it becomes easier to look at what the future might bring with the marriage of guns and 3D printing.

The plans in the first article mentioned above have already been downloaded over 100,000 times, and already appear on The Pirate Bay.  As of now, the ability to actually print such an item is difficult and expensive, but as 3D printing catches on, it will become far more accesible–cheaper, smaller, easier, diverse.  3D printing hobbyists are already popping up, and I’m sure the rate at which hobbyists do show up will increase dramatically as the price comes down; heck, I most certainly am intrigued at what I can print one day in the comfort of my own home!  The idea, however, of anyone with access to a 3D printer being able to print a gun is a little scary.

It is very, very easy to imagine the ways a convicted felon or gang member or other person looking to do violence can gain access to guns via 3D printing in the near future.  In a decade or two, it could certainly be possible that most gun crimes are committed with plastic-printed weapons.  Printed weapons could become the new centerpieces of the black market for weapons, or the new easy way for a mentally unstable individual looking to commit mass violence to get armed.

I’m not sure if increasing regulations on gunpowder sales will do the trick.  Nor am I sure it will possible to entirely regulate the use of 3D printing for firearms at all.  This is an issue that will require more natural development before an accurate assessment of the future can be determined or guessed.


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