I’m sure you all know by now that governments across the globe are paying particular attention to the 3D printing space when it comes to the fabrication of undetectable firearms. While politicians in the United States seek to limit the public’s ability to download and share schematics for and to actually 3D print firearms, the concerns are not limited to this nation alone.
Last month the United Nations held the Second Meeting of Governmental Experts (MGE2) to discuss the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. The meeting, held in New York City, is part of the Programme of Action (PoA), which was launched by the UN in 2001. While there are obviously numerous topics to be discussed related to the illicit trade of such weapons, much of the discussion focused on the 3D printing of firearms. While some pundits believe that the experts on hand were overly concerned with, or at least discussed the topic of 3D printing to an extreme, clearly the group saw it as a major concern.
There were delegates on hand from 94 different UN member nations, many of whom debated the importance of regulating the distribution and fabrication of undetectable, 3D printable firearms. The Chair’s summary of the meeting has been published and really provides us with a thorough understanding of how the world views this technology and the possible dangers it may present.
“At MGE2, a potential challenge related to 3D printed firearms was the greater ease with which these weapons could be smuggled past many standard screening mechanisms, in particular metal detectors: Some tests have shown that 3D printed weapons, even when containing metal elements, have passed through traditional walk-through metal detectors, although they have been detected with X-ray scanners used at airports,” explained the Chair’s summary of the meeting.
While the summary expresses concerns related to the technology, it does point out that we are still years away from any major dangers, namely because of the lack of affordable and available machines for producing reliable firearms. The report cites examples such as Defense Distributed’s 3D printed Liberator gun as a firearm that’s not reliable, while they point to Solid Concept’s 1911 metal handgun as a reliable but very expensive approach to using 3D printing for firearms production.
The report also points out that the 3D printing industry is realizing rapid growth, and as the technologies improve prices will drop across the board.
“In recent years, 3D printing technology has been, on some occasions, used for making weapons, first using polymers and then also using metals, though a weapon’s reliability produced this way is not very high for the moment,” the summary goes on to explain. “This may change as technology progresses, while currently a printed weapon that can fire a single shot or more than 10 shots already poses a threat.”
Although the delegates felt that the cost and operational limits of such printed firearms will continue to drive the continued illicit sale of traditional firearms on the black market, and that we are still likely years away from any major concerns, a few comments and discussions were rather alarming to those of us thoroughly involved within the industry. The experts discussed not only ways to control the distribution of files over the internet but control the actual sale and exportation of 3D printers.
China, in particular, called for the group to consider “strengthening 3D printing regulations in the context of 3D weapon printing,” for “ensuring export licenses [are] in place for 3D printers,” and “the need to pay attention to the resale of such printers,” while “strengthening controls over 3D printing technology.”
Clearly these suggestions are more in line with China’s hardline government than those of some of the more democratic nations present at the meeting–but it says a lot for how China views such technology while at the same time spending hundreds of millions of dollars to develop it in order to compete with the United States and Europe.
The experts at the meeting also discussed the dangers of illegal modifications or conversions of firearms via 3D printing as well as the implications of polymer 3D printed firearms on law enforcement and those relying on forensic evidence for investigations. ‘Disposable’ firearms could pretty much erase any evidence trail of a crime. For instance a murder weapon could easily be melted down to nearly nothing within minutes, leaving virtually no trace behind.
Clearly there are dangers which the global community will have to face together, but like the report suggests, these dangers are still likely years ahead of us. Governments need to play some role in protecting their citizens but they also should not overstep their boundaries and become too intertwined within the operations of businesses and those they are governing. Let’s hear your thoughts on this recent meeting in the UN 3D Printed Firearm forum thread on 3DPB.com.
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