c4be402451427a624c305d04a81b51a1A few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch. It’s a saying we all know well, and it keeps ringing in my head regarding 3D printing and guns. Those errant excuses for fruit generally seem to make their way as a quotient into most new technologies because just as fast as the good guys make progress, the bad guys seem to outdo them. And while we may all have different perceptions and varying shades of gray regarding who the good and the bad are, and what actually constitutes illegal behaviors, the gun conversation is incendiary before we even bring 3D printing–or criminals–into focus.

Australia is constantly in the news regarding their harsh views on the subject, and as they recently passed legislation on 3D printed guns putting restrictions on physical possession as well as even having the 3D files, the clear message is not to have them or even think about making them. Directly on the heels of the latest legislation from New South Wales came a surprising bust as police investigating a dwelling near the Gold Coast discovered a sophisticated meth lab–and, amongst the contraband, a loaded, 3D printed .22-caliber pistol.

While it is fairly common knowledge now that these weapons can be created and are indeed out there, including in the criminal realm, the general tone from the authorities after their bust seemed to be surprise. Perhaps because the gun in question was loaded and seemingly functional, it made pretty big news–and seems to have sunk in as a reality for the Queensland police.

“To find a printed handgun, it’s a scary thought. I mean, it looks like a plastic toy, but it’s a firearm,” said Detective Inspector Brendan Smith, who admits that they are finding this new twist in weaponry to be a bit of a gamechanger. “It’s not very big but I wouldn’t want to be shot by it.”

As the latest bust and finding of the 3D printed gun just fuel the fire regarding legislation on 3D printed weapons, one expert recommends slowing down and considering the technology more fully. Making the point that one has to be very knowledgeable to create a 3D printed gun–not to mention one that actually fires without failing and potentially blowing off someone’s arm–Bond University Society and Design assistant professor James Birt is highly skeptical that we are in danger from criminals crafting weapons at their 3D printers.

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Loaded 3D printed handgun found during meth lab raid on the Gold Coast on December 10, 2015. (Photo: Queensland Police Service)

“You’ve got to obviously find the blueprints online, you need to download them and you need to have an understanding of the 3D printing process to be able to construct that particular weapon,” he said. “I would be more concerned about them picking up a weapon from some guy down the corner than downloading and printing one of these files from the internet at this time.”

His point also is that the bad apples in the bunch probably amount to something like .0001 percent of the maker population.

“We should not legislate against these technologies,” says Birt. “We cannot legislate [against] these technologies because of the .0001 per cent of these people that may use these things for illegal activity.”

Dr. James Birt

Dr. James Birt

Taking a buoyant attitude regarding the future, Birt points out how positive the accessibility of this technology is for everyone in general. In response to the latest legislation by New South Wales forbidding the possession even of 3D gun design files, he acknowledges that while rules can be made, there is certainly no stopping the technology.

“It’s actually a fantastic technology that is going to revolutionize industrial manufacturing around the world,” he said. “It’s obviously revolutionizing things like health, science and medicine, revolutionizing education.”

And while many may have a less worried take on 3D printing, the constant question as to how senseless deaths via gunshot wounds can be decreased abounds. Here in the US gun control controversy rages on in an endless loop, a topic even brought to light at the dinner table between my young children, amidst politics, Super Mario gaming strategies, and questions about dessert. 3D printing, much often a topic–and activity–between the younger generations today, is not highlighted as often now for its weapon-making capabilities–most likely due to such an overwhelming torrent of positive innovations being presented on a continual basis.

With such positive impacts occurring in nearly every sector of industry that cannot be ignored, some of the gun talk seemed to have been drowned out–despite numerous creations we have followed, like the ongoing story of the Liberator. We’ve also seen the controversy inspiring art displays and installations, as well as more lighthearted weaponry such as guns that shoot paper planes and even rubber bands.

One thing that guns and 3D printing do have in common is that neither are going away. In regards to technology, what’s very important is that useless laws won’t imprison or squelch the innovation helping the ‘good guys’ to make enormous strides, from saving lives to taking us to space.  Let’s hear your thoughts in the 3D Printed Gun forum on 3DPB.com.

[Source: ABC Gold Coast]
A sample 3D printed gun produced by NSW Police during testing purposes.

A sample 3D printed gun produced by NSW Police during testing purposes.

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