Why 3D-Printed Guns Don’t Scare Me (Yet)

For the past couple of weeks, the media has been obsessed with a 3D printed gun known as “The Liberator.” This glorified zip gun, designed by an Austin non-profit known as Defense Distributed, was made using open-source plans and a 3D printer that’s readily available to anyone with the capital and know-how.

The frenzy of attention is no surprise, considering America is currently embroiled in one of the most polarized debates over gun control in national history. Almost daily we hear news of a tragic shooting, many involving children, while in Washington special interests try to convince us that it’s all a ploy to take away our freedom.

The reality that a vast majority of the world can now create a lethal weapon at the touch of a button has many people very worried, but for now, I’m not one of them. Here’s why.

3D Printers Are Still Fringe Technology

Let’s start with the obvious reason first: almost no one owns a 3D printer. While 3D designs make the headlines all the time, the price and sophistication of the hardware necessary to produce them is still out of reach for the average consumer. There aren’t any hard numbers, but this MAKE reporter estimates that there are only 100 thousand 3D printers in civilian hands. But the printer that produced the liberator wasn’t just your every day 3D printer, it was a Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer, which costs $8,000. For most of America, that’s a lot of rent and groceries.

Why waste all that money when you could just walk into a gun store and buy a real gun for way less? And the pistol you get at the gun store wouldn’t have the potential to blow up in your hand if you tried to fire it twice. It’s also worth mentioning that people could make far more functional guns using tools sitting in every workshop in America, like a lathe and a mill.

The Gun Industry Hates It

Since the Aurora movie theater and Newtown school shootings, Americans have been crying out for responsible reform of existing firearm legislation. The pushback from the gun industry and sympathetic special interests has been both swift and terrible to behold.

They say it’s because ANY attempt to limit access to guns or huge magazines of bullets is a violation of Second Amendment. But the real motive is money, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the Liberator and its offspring will do more to expose this than perhaps anything else. After all, guns that can be designed, printed, and carried by anyone (potentially undetected) are a direct threat to the NRA industrial complex.

“Gun manufacturers will eventually figure out the competition and provide direction to the NRA,” writes Anna Daniels for the San Diego Free Press. “The NRA will no doubt grease the appropriate palms, bluster where necessary and pull the legislative strings necessary to assure that situation does not get out of hand.” Current laws show that the gun industry knows how to get what it wants, so why should this new development be any exception?

It Exposes Our Obsession and Crappy Gun Laws

Once things are on the internet, poof! They’re quickly out of any government’s control. 100,000 people downloaded the Liberator’s plans before the State Department pulled them. But they still exist, on 100,000 hard-drives, and in virtual pirate coves that non-hackers like you and me can only dream of.

A ban on 3D printed guns, as well as bullets and magazines, has already been proposed in Congress, but there are big questions about how well it could be enforced. (The government banned marijuana too, remember?) Anything that goes beyond a “you can’t do that” law would require major infringements on the 3D printing community as a whole, something regular hobbyists don’t want and, again, would be hard to enforce.

Perhaps, as Paul Hsieh writes for Forbes, “by making it harder (if not nearly impossible) for the government to regulate gun possession and transfers, [3D gun] development could move the government to instead (properly) focus its efforts on punishing gun misuse.”

The Liberator forces us to live outside the moment and look at this issue from a bird’s eye view. It shows how laws alone are insufficient to stop the criminal use of firearms. What good does legislation do when we have a national culture of hatred, judgement, division and inequality, perpetrated by the highest offices on down to the street level criminal?

Until we’re willing to address our national obsession with firearms, violence and the glorification of war; until we’re ready and able to address the true motivators of violent crime, like poverty, mental illness, discrimination and incarceration for profit, death will always be just a gun away.


Image via Wired


Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Christina B.
Christina B4 years ago

The last paragraph is really was it's all about.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K4 years ago

The purpose of this gun is to bring down the US government. The inventor is a self confessed anarchist, and he's invented the perfect assassins and terrorists weapon. You come from the Mountain West, Beth, so guns are just a normal part of your landscape. When a Tea Partier uses one of these to assassinate Obama, it probably won't bother you or your neighbors much, but you'll be sorry when your nephew's plane gets hijacked and flown into a building using a bunch of these. Of course, the building will never be in gun nut land, because jihadis never heard of any of your empty states. This is a horrifying development for those of us who live in the places they have heard of - you're either too stupid or too evil to see why.

Ryan Yehling
Ryan Yehling4 years ago

I am ok with this.

Deryck B.
Deryck B4 years ago

You, the writer, keep referring to America and Americans and "we" but form the context you seem to be restricting your remarks to only the States ie to the USA Certainly all your remarks apply to USA but do they all apply equally, and are you knowledgeable enough to write for all American countries including Canada, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, whole of Central America etc?

Part of that very
"we have a national culture of hatred, judgement, division and inequality, perpetrated by the highest offices on down to the street level criminal?"
that you very fairly refer to and acknowledge?

Are you saying every independent country in America has such a culture or are you restricting your remarks to that one of many independent countries in America known as the States?

Or is your attitude of referring to States as "America" part of the overall global domination attitude of much of the States and of some but not all States people?

love and hugs not arms or domination! :-)

deryck x

Christine Stewart

The 3-D printers are cool- too bad some jerk has to use it to make a weapon!

Michael H.
Mike H4 years ago


Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

I would never own a gun...of any kind. Thanks

Mary T.
Mary T4 years ago

would never own a gun

Mara Comitas
Past Member 4 years ago

I am scared of any weapon falling into the wrong hands!