One thing about the exponential progress we are seeing within technology is that as time goes by, it becomes more and more difficult to predict what will come next. If you thought the transformation within the communications industry via smartphones and the globalization of the internet over the last two decades was rapid, watch what happens over the next 20 years in several verticals from additive manufacturing to robotics and the internet of things.
No doubt these rapid rates of progress we are seeing, and will continue see at an ever increasing rate, will present both governments and businesses with difficult decisions to be made. What happens when any 3D printer can print out a deadly weapon within hours, or the chemicals required to make illegal drugs within minutes? These are all things we will soon find out as the technology continues to develop.
Already we have the ability to 3D print guns, with both plastics and metals. Back in 2013 a man named Cody Wilson and his company Defense Distributed gained notoriety as they uploaded a 3D printable model online for the Liberator. The Liberator was the first 3D printable gun to be designed which actually functioned. Since then Wilson, who’s clearly a gun-rights activist, has gone on to launch the Ghost Gunner, an open source hardware project to ‘3D print’ the lower receiver of an AR-15, a popular semi-automatic rifle. The Ghost Gunner machine is actually a 3-axis CNC mill which is set up specifically to print out these lower receivers. Although not technically considered a 3D printer, the media has hyped it as such.
Wilson had been pre-selling these setups since late last year, while also making the design files and schematics available for free online. Yesterday, however, he notified Reason.com that some issues had arisen. Apparently FedEx was not happy with him using their service to ship his Ghost Gunner units, and on Friday notified Wilson that they would no longer be able to ship such products.
“I told them, look you guys ship guns, this should not be a controversy,” explained Wilson to Reason. “This is not regulated. This is totally settled law here.”
FedEx’s decision is one that they have the right to make, but Wilson feels that such a move is uncalled for. After all, the Ghost Gunner units are not breaking any laws, at least according to the attorneys that Defense Distributed has hired.
The real question here is how much further will FedEx and other shipping companies take this type of behavior? Plastic 3D printers can already print out guns, albeit not very reliable ones. As the technology progresses it is only a matter of a few years before more reliable guns will be able to be printed out on a typical 3D printer like the MakerBot Replicator. Will FedEx ban 3D printer shipments next? We’ve contacted them to get their thoughts on all this but have yet to receive a response.
As for Wilson and Defense Distributed, they are now currently looking for other means to ship their Ghost Gunner units, preferably a company that can do on-site pickups. Wilson, a self-proclaimed anarchist, is actually also considering using the USPS. Ultimately it’s likely that he will be able to find a shipping company willing to work with him, but the real issue is much bigger. What will happen in the next five to six years as 3D printers become more capable? Will governments try to ban them? Will companies refuse to ship them? Let’s hear your thoughts on all this in the 3D Printed Gun forum thread on 3DPB.com.