Thursday, October 18, 2012
How Congress Should React to Printable Guns
Stratasys, a company that manufactures 3D printers, recently seized one of their own printers. The company planned to sell the printer to Defense Distributed, a group that is attempting to design a firearm that can be printed out on a 3D printer. In a plan called the Wiki Weapon project, Defense Distributed planned to share 3D weapon blueprints with individuals online to allow those who have access to 3D printers the ability to print a firearm. When Stratasys got wind of the intended use of their 3D printer, the company took it back, claiming that it was Stratasys company policy not to facilitate illegal activity.
Today, 3D printing is a reality that is projected to have a dramatic impact on our society. The process works by stacking layers of material on top of one another, then fusing the layers together to form an object. Many different materials such as plastic, titanium and sugar may be used in this process. Indubitably, as with many forms of new technology, it is only a matter of time before the process is used to manufacture weapons.
Defense Distributed’s Wiki Weapon project would allow everyone with a computer access to 3D weapon blueprints. Then, using those blueprints, the individual can print the weapon on a 3D printer, a technology becoming more accessible and affordable.
Currently, U.S. law allows an individual to manufacture a personal firearm so long as 1) the individual does not manufacture an NFA-gun: a firearm regulated in the National Firearms Act and 2) the individual is legally allowed to possess a firearm. The current state of the law may be acceptable in light of the common manufacturing technology available to ordinary citizens today, but as 3D printing technology becomes more accessible, the regulations on personal manufacturing of firearms must become more rigid.
New legislation preventing the widespread manufacturing of homemade guns could come in many forms. Lawmakers could proscribe the manufacturing of weapons made with specific materials without a license, the possession of a homemade weapon, or specific manufacturing processes. Congress could also ban any firearm that is capable of circumventing x-ray machines and metal detectors, a possibility with plastic weapons manufactured with 3D printing technology.
It is foolish to try to suppress the progress of a new technology that has so many beneficial applications for our society. However, fostering new technology should not inhibit the creation of preemptive legislation aimed at mitigating the negative side effects of the technology on our society.
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