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Ban open-source blueprints for guns, save the world

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 10:39am
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor

There is now a 3D-printed rifle that can fire multiple rounds WITHOUT breaking. We’ve moved beyond the one-and-done 3D guns of the past. Now, we’re talking FOURTEEN shots before the gun fell apart.

Last time we visited this topic, many commenters reminded me that people have been making guns out of random bits of things forever. While this is incredibly alarming, it is also a moot point. There is no finite limit on dangerous items. Noting that one type of homemade gun exists, doesn’t limit the danger of a different type homemade gun. So, let’s focus on 3D-printed guns specifically.

This .22 caliber long rifle, created by “Matthew”, fired 14 shots before falling apart. With earlier versions of the guns—and even early in the video—Matthew was pulling the trigger via a string that allowed him to stand at a safe distance in case the gun malfunctioned. However, after a few shots, he’s right up front with this gun. Which suggests a very high probability of—or belief in—the gun NOT exploding in his face. This isn’t some rough-cut, thrown together peashooter. This is a meticulously-crafted firearm. This is terrifying.

This particular version was printed on a professional-grade Stratasys Dimension 1200ES 3D printer out of ABS+ Plastic. Matthew was inspired by Defense Distributed.

As an added bonus, Matthew plans on making the blueprints for the gun available online for anyone to see. The legality of that is debatable—particularly in Canada—but the intent is there. We'll get to that in a bit.

The most alarming thing, is the speed at which 3D printed guns are improving. Just a few months ago, guns could barely fire one bullet before they were falling apart. People said it couldn’t be done. Now, this guy has improved the design enough to fire a substantial amount of times.

Lest this article become a series of “the sky is falling” freakouts a la Chicken Little, this isn’t what I would consider a “fad” or even an easily created item [at least it’s not right now]. The professional-grade printer used, which Matthew accesses through his work making tools for construction, runs around $35,000. The price point is naturally prohibitive. You could try using an at-home printer, but the quality might not be there. Plus, even if you figure out how to create the gun, the spent bullet casings were difficult to remove and it requires reloading after every shot. At this point, there are easier ways to get a more reliable gun. 

The key here will be getting ahead of the technology when it comes to regulations. Eliminate online blueprints for these machines. Yes, legally, you can make your own gun, which is a debatable law in the first place. But you can’t distribute them. So, nip that in the bud, and make the blueprints illegal. Eventually, these guns will evolve to the point where they are viable alternatives to actual firearms and if the legislation already exists, we might have a fighting chance.

Though previous attempts to eliminate these blueprints from their online hosting sites has been mixed--3D-printing firm Makerbot removed a large collection right after the Newton, CT shootings—websites need to be enforcing their own policies. For example, Thingiverse, the site from which Makerbot deleted the collection, has always had a ban against any users who “collect, upload, transmit, display or distribute any User Content… that…promotes illegal activities or contributes to the creation of weapons,” according to a letter received by those whose designs were removed. The framework for enforcing these bans is there, we just need to enforce it.

That’s not to say that’s not already being done on some levels. When Defense Distributed, a libertarian group of engineers, programmers and designers hell-bent on creating a world where 3D printed guns are widely available, attempted to raise money on crowd funding site Indiegogo, the website shut down the  campaign on the grounds that it was violating company policy restricting campaigns related to the sale of firearms. Meanwhile, Defense Distributed raised the cash they needed via Bitcoin. The only thing saving these blueprints right now is they fall into a grey area of the law.

Here’s the legal crux of the issue. It is legal to create pistols, revolvers and rifles in your home (that varies by state) provided you are not selling, sharing or trading the weapon. It is illegal for anyone besides the creator to use the aforementioned firearms. However, military-grade weapons, rocket launchers, sawed off shotguns or concealed firearms cannot be made in your home. "Any other weapon, other than a pistol or revolver, from which a shot is discharged by an explosive if such weapon is capable of being concealed on the person” must be reviewed by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Since you could ostensibly print anything on a 3D printer, it stands to reason that people will be printing things outside of pistols, revolvers or rifles.

As an added legal hurdle, the Guardian discovered a law called the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which makes it illegal to, “manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive” any firearm that cannot be detected in a metal detector. Since 3D printed guns would be made from plastic, they might fall under that category.

It’s very much a grey legal area, but it needs to be addressed now. Crack down on sites hosting this ticking timebomb. The rapid evolution of the technology suggests that this could be a very real threat in the very near future.

And these are just the American laws. Matthew is playing by an entirely different set of Canadian laws, which brings up an interesting point. If these blueprints are being downloaded across the world—at least according to Defense Distributed—what sort of international treaties and laws are being ignored? While some gun enthusiasts are concerned about Canada becoming the leader in 3D-printed guns over the United States, maybe we should be considering how the issue of open source firearms works across borders. The most obvious of this would be International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which requires that, "anyone who wants to sell weapons or related technical data to foreign agents has to do three things: 1) check to see whether the weapon appears in a document called the U.S. Munitions List; 2) if it does, register with the State Department; and 3) apply for an export license. The application has to describe what’s being sold, to whom, and for what purpose." The obvious rub is that the guns aren't being sold and ITAR doesn't regular public domain information. 

Technology, while amazing and awe-inspiring, can also be dangerous. In addition to the danger of having some at-home gun hobbyist accidentally blowing himself [or his kid or his neighbor] up while trying to recreate this gun, you have the very real possibility of this being used in a dangerous way.

 

(Check out Jason Lomberg's Article: 3D-printed guns lead the open source revolution, here)

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