“You brought a 3D printer to a gun fight”. There’s a sentence you’ve probably never heard before. However, it mightn’t be as far fetched as you think. With every passing day, the 3D printing revolution is getting closer and closer to the average household, and the average criminal. Technology is forever creating opportunities for new crimes and the courts and lawmakers have no choice but catch up as best they can. We saw this recently with e-commerce taxation, identity theft and more. The next big issue lawmakers are going to have to tackle is with your average Joe printing firearms in his living room whilst watching TV. What was once the fiction of SCI-FI movies is now a very real reality. Digital CAD files can easily be transformed into a physical reality. Current laws are fantastically ill-equipped to handle the possible threats 3D printing will bring upon society. The issues that arise from the new printing revolution are plentiful, the first that comes to mind is intellectual property rights.
This article however will examine the issue of 3D printed guns that have the potential to significantly undermine existing attempts at gun control. As of today, there is effectively no realistic way of controlling the manufacturing of 3D printed firearms. If that wasn’t a big enough worry, consider that a 3D printed gun is untraceable and undocumented in government databases. This is a dream come true for your average criminal or terrorist. Furthermore, current forensics analysts would have a very hard time matching a bullet to the firearm that was used to fire it. Having the capability to download a digital file and print out your own gun at home will effectively render all gun laws obsolete. Licenses, registration, and background checks could all become a thing of the past. The United States currently attempts to deal with the issue of undetectable guns with The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. This legislation prohibits the manufacture, import, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, transfer, or receipt of any fireman that may go unnoticed in an X-ray machine or a metal detector. The law also requires that all firearms contain at leat 104 grams of metal. Theoretically, this law seems to be a great solution. The only trouble is that criminals don’t have a great track record when it comes to following the law. So basically, The Undetectable Firearms Act is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. The key is to strike a reasonable balance between public safety and gun control whilst still allowing technological advancement. Due to the unstoppable nature of file sharing, it seems like an extreme solution would be prohibiting the ownership of 3D printers entirely. This however is a solution that is too drastic, and is unlikely to be adopted on the global scale, thus rendering it ineffective. A possible solution would be requiring background checks and perhaps a license in order to own the 3D printer itself. This measure could realistically be implemented worldwide, even in the United States, as it wouldn’t directly conflict with The Second Amendment. Whatever the solution, legislators need to act fast before it’s too late and the market is full of 3D printers and plastic guns.
Feature image: Stephen Z