If you were like me and thought that 3D printing was one of those unnecessary quasi-technological advances like a two-in-one beach radio/metal detector that you might find in the SkyMall catalogue (“perfect for getting your jam on while you’re hunting for gold!”)--think again.
A few months ago, a gun enthusiast named Micahel Guslick printed the lower receiver of a .22 caliber pistol using a commercial 3D printer. Then he shot it. And a bullet came out. Now his blueprints are all over the internet--along with his defiant cries of glory.
“It's had over 200 rounds of .22 through it so far and runs great!” Guslick boasted.
The company that makes the printer-turned-gun-manufacturer isn’t all too happy that their innocuous technology has been turned into a death press. According to Smithsonian magazine, Stratasys wants their printers back.
But gun enthusiasts have different plans for these 3D printers--and their ideas are well backed by the U.S. gun lobby.
Inspired by the printed firearm, Cody Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas, has launched the group “Defense Distributed,” which he describes as a “Wiki Weapon Project.” The group’s goal: to create the plans for a fully printable gun and then distribute those plans freely online. Remember, HaveBlue only printed the bottom receiver--called the a “lower” in gun talk. But with the direction that 3D printing technology is going, fully printable rifles will likely become a possibility within the next few years--if not sooner. High-end 3D printers can already print not only plastics but also metal and ceramic, and these printers will grow increasingly affordable as technology improves.
Defense Distributed already commands considerable seed money. According to Wilson, the group has received $12,000 in donations, plus the promise from one trigger-happy investor to match all donations above $10,000 dollar-to-dollar. Wilson says that more money and design prototypes are on the near horizon.
Wilson described his long-term vision as “realizing a private law society,” which sounds like an armed adaptation of Lord of the Flies. Lucky for Wilson, his ideals dovetail with the gun lobby’s plans for the United States, and groups are lining up to defend the legality and rationality of printing guns.
“People have been making firearms at home since before America was a country,” Dudley Brown, executive vice president of the National Association for Gun Rights, said to Wired magazine. “And not only does it not make it dangerous, it makes America safer.”
More guns make America safer...we’ve heard this reasoning before, haven’t we? Ah, right--this was the same propaganda the lobby pushed in the wake of Aurora, Tuscon, Virginia Tech, and everyone other high profile shooting in the last decade.
Unfortunately, the legality of these printed guns may just hold up in a court of law. It raises some tricky questions regarding licensing, detectibility, sales and export possibilities--but even gun-control advocates admit that the Second Amendment was written at a time when people could and did manufacture their own firearms.
“The laws were written assuming people could make their own guns … the law still does regulate and restrict that,” Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told Wired Magazine. “Guslick likely didn’t violate any laws surrounding the manufacturing of the gun without a license, as it’s only for personal use. If he attempted to sell the pistol, or opened up a factory producing the weapons, he’d need authorization from the government.
See the Wiki Weapon Project’s video for yourself and decide whether anything could go wrong: