Imagine downloading the blueprint of a gun to your computer, creating it on a three-dimensional printer, and actually firing it shortly afterwards. Far from President Obama’s push for tougher gun controls, there would be no background checks, no unexpected obstacles.
If this sounds like something out of Star Trek, it’s not.
Three-D printing has been around for decades, but has only caught the public eye over the last few years as the technology has become cheaper and more refined.
Printing in 3D may seem bizarre, but it is simply a way to create physical objects out of digital plans. It’s not that different from clicking on the print button on a computer screen in order to send a digital file to an inkjet printer. But instead of ink, there’s a material that is deposited in successive, thin layers until a solid object emerges.
From The Economist:
The layers are defined by software that takes a series of digital slices through a computer-aided design. Descriptions of the slices are then sent to the 3D printer to construct the respective layers. They are then put together in a number of ways. Powder can be spread onto a tray and then solidified in the required pattern with a squirt of a liquid binder or by sintering it with a laser or an electron beam. Some machines deposit filaments of molten plastic. However it is achieved, after each layer is complete the build tray is lowered by a fraction of a millimetre and the next layer is added.
The long-term implications of this are huge: the printing of parts and products can transform manufacturing because it lowers the costs and risks. No longer do producers have to make thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of items to recover their fixed costs. Unlike mass manufacturing, 3D printing allows for a great deal of customizing: everyone can create exactly what they want with relative ease. In the future consumers could download products as they do digital music and print them out at home, or at a local 3D production center.
That’s going to take a while, but many people see the 3-D printer as heralding the next industrial revolution.
Well, that’s exciting, but how does this relate to guns?
A group called Defence Distributed claims to have created downloadable weapon parts that can be built using a 3-D printer. University of Texas law student Cody Wilson, the 24-year-old “Wiki Weapons” project leader, says the group last month test fired a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, one of the weapon types used in the Connecticut school massacre, which they had built with some key parts created on a 3-D printer. The gun was fired six times before it broke.
From The Economist:
They called their magazine “Cuomo”, after New York’s governor, who championed legislation banning magazines that hold more than seven rounds. Others have successfully printed stocks, grips and triggers, though not the chamber or the barrel of a weapon. That is much harder; but all this tinkering makes many people nervous.
Some of that fear may be overblown. Making a gun for personal use is usually not illegal, and home-made guns are nothing new. Ginger Colburn, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), says her agency has seen guns made from “pens, books, belts, clubs. You name it, people have turned it into firearms.”
Neverthless, US Representative Steve Israel is planning to introduce a bill which would renew and expand the Undetectable Firearms Act, which outlaws guns that can’t be detected by X-ray or metallic scanners. That law expires at the end of 2013.
Here’s a video of a printed gun being used:
Do you think guns created on a 3-D printer pose a real threat? How can they be regulated?
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Photo Credit: screenshot from Youtube video