In 2012, 3D printing entered the volatile arena of international debate concerning gun violence and closer state monitoring/control of weapons ownership, when the U.S. firearms design organization, Defense Distributed, released its open source, CAD-based schematics for the first 3D printed gun called “The Liberator.” 100,000 downloads took place in two days (there have been over a million to date) and five months later the U.S. State Department intervened and requested that Defense Distributed remove its download links from public access.
This was too little, too late, as files for producing the gun could be accessed on numerous file-sharing sites, emphasizing the virtual impossibility of restricting access to this emergent technology and certainly to asserting control over the manufacturing and distribution of 3D-printed weapons. Also, 3D printing a gun is a relatively inexpensive prospect–”The Liberator” could be produced for about $1,400.
Indeed, 3D printing technology has in some ways fanned the flames of the volatile, and at times, hyperbolic debate over gun control to stem what some argue is an alarming increase in gun violence, particularly in Westernized nations. Australia has joined the debate, launching an inquiry by a Senate panel into the issue of gun violence in the country. In addition to concerns over the possession of illegal (unlicensed) and stolen guns, there is a fear that 3D printed weapons will exacerbate what gun-control and gun-ban advocates argue is a growing problem in Australia–gun-related violence.
A major concern with respect to 3D-printed firearms is that they are not detected by scanners and X-rays, so they are easily concealed. In 2013, the United States House of Representatives attempted to update its standing (since 1988) “Undetectable Firearms Act” to include 3D printed weapons and gun parts, but the effort was unsuccessful, which speaks, among other things, to the influence of the pro-gun lobby in the U.S. But underlying that is perhaps a tacit understanding and admission that this technology has proven, and will continue to prove difficult to grapple with. One fairly straightforward solution proposed by gun control advocates in the U.S. and included in the doomed expansion of the UFA was that 3D printed guns would be required to include a metal strip that would make them detectable.
There is no clear statistical evidence that 3D printed guns have had an impact where gun-related violence is concerned, either in Australia or the U.S. Additionally, 3D-printed guns are not currently covered under Australia’s strict gun control laws. A representative of the Victims of Crime Assistance League in Australia, Howard Brown, spoke to the Senate panel regarding 3D printed guns or “devices,” urging them to “keep pace with that level of technology.” Brown cited failure on the part of the courts to keep up with the new technology but did not appear to acknowledge the extreme difficulty of doing so. Meanwhile, the technology seems to be evolving rapidly. There is now, for instance, a metal 3D printed firearm capable of firing well over 50 shots, although the material does at least make such a weapon detectable.
At the Australian Senate hearing, the general attitude was that further study was required, including examining the most recent statistics concerning gun violence in Australia, which do not seem to reflect notable increases in gun violence, even in larger urban areas. The inquiry is scheduled to be completed and will release its findings at the end of the year.
What do you think regulators should do to stem the risks involved with 3D printed firearms? Should they do anything at all? Discuss in the Australian 3D Printed Guns forum thread on 3DPB.com.