3D printing: We just know something bad’s gun happen
While the revolution may not be televised, it could, one day, be downloaded. What could go wrong?
The US is the only country that, following a gun massacre, has loosened its gun laws instead of making access to guns harder. It comes as little surprise, then, to read that less than a year after a mass shooting in Las Vegas that saw the killing or wounding of some 480 people, yet another law has been passed to make it easier for people to get a gun.
As of August 1, Americans are able to post and find plans for 3D printable guns online. It is a court judgment that concludes a legal battle that found its roots in 2013 when gun advocate Cody Wilson posted plans for his design of The Liberator, a single-shot 3D-printed handgun.
Made almost entirely from ABS plastic, the only metal parts were the firing pin and a piece of metal included to comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act. Within weeks, the files had reportedly been downloaded over a million times.Shortly afterward, the US State Department told Wilson to remove his plans. They argued that they violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations that control the export of defence technologies so as to safeguard US national security.
Wilson complied, but then sued the federal government; it led to the current settlement that lets Wilson publish gun plans freely. The right to bear arms – the trump card in any US political card game – won again.
For the US, awash as it is with guns, this addition will likely not have a major effect. There, a criminal intent on violence can as easily buy a handgun as print one. But it raises concerns that “ghost guns” – plastic firearms that don’t have serial numbers – may proliferate.
This is what Wilson and his disciples want; they see liberty as their right to make untraceable and unregulated guns that governments can neither track nor ban.
There are obvious concerns in this. Would-be terrorists may well see the 3D-printed gun as being a useful addition to their deadly arsenals – and not just in the US. Once these plans are freely distributed we can never know for sure where guns may eventually be printed.For the moment, the police in most countries seem relatively unconcerned. The printers needed to make guns are expensive. Guns that have been printed are prone to breaking, making them a risky choice for someone who wants a clean shot. And no matter how many 3D guns you have, without ammunition they are harmless; stories abound of criminals so short on the right calibre ammunition for their metal firearm, that they wrap their rounds in sticky tape to fit.
But firearm experts say that anyone with a basic knowledge of engineering could construct a metal gun, if that was their desire.
“Would I consider that 3D-printed guns constitute a very real threat?” says Martin Parker, the lead forensic scientist for the National Ballistics Intelligence Service in England. “No, I would not. But if you ask me the same question in five years’ time, I may be giving you a different answer.”
This is the deeper concern. Just as it was predictable that someone would, sooner or later, be run over by a driverless car, so too is it predictable that someone will print a 3D gun and use it for murder.
The technology for plastic and metal printing will improve, costs will come down and 3D printing may become commonplace. If this happens, men like Naa’imur Rahman, recently found guilty of planning to assassinate UK Prime Minister Theresa May, or Thomas Wyllie and Alex Bolland, who vowed to carry out “one of the worst atrocities in British history” as they planned to slaughter their classmates, might see 3D guns as the way to realise their dark fantasies.Such a threat is the inevitable result of technological advances – the flip side of progress. Pandora’s box was opened when Wilson published his first plan and it will need imaginative thinking to navigate this brave new world. Perhaps the US comedian Chris Rock was onto something when he said that we don’t need gun control, we need bullet control.
But ignoring such a source of power could mean that while the revolution may not be televised, it could, one day, be downloaded.
- © The Daily Telegraph
Iain Overton is the executive director of Action on Armed Violence, and author of ‘Gun Baby Gun’.