In Mudjimba, Queensland, police made a surprising discovery on Wednesday during a drug raid: three handguns, nearly operational, which had been produced using 3D printers. From the Queensland police blog:
Officers attended the Currawong Street address around 8.30am and made the discovery which also included false driver licences and credit cards allegedly made using printers and scanning equipment.
The three handguns and various weapon parts seized were allegedly produced by a 3D printer over the last two months and capable of being fired.
This is one of the great concerns of police in the modern era. 3D printed guns are virtually untraceable, and their availability to anyone with a suitable printer eliminates the ability to monitor distributors. Due to their construction materials, they raise concerns about the usefulness of metal detectors as protective devices. The actual guns are cheap to produce, once the expensive printers have been purchased.
Due to Cody Wilson, they are about to become far more prevalent throughout the world.
Cody is the Austin, Texas man who created the first successful 3-D printed gun. He is also the creator of Defcad.com, a website devoted to sharing printer code for the production of 3D printed guns. Shortly after the site was founded, it was shut down by the US State Department. Thus began a set of lawsuits which culminated, to the surprise of many, in the Department of Justice settling in Cody’s lawsuit. (New York Times) As of August 1, Defcad will have printer code once again available for download.
This, naturally, has thoughtful gun activists of all stripes concerned. Those who are attempting to restrict the proliferation of guns are. quite naturally, upset that guns are going to be readily available. Those who are for responsible gun ownership know that, unavoidably, the technology will be used by criminals to create weapons for use in deadly crimes, and that will inevitably trigger a sociopolitical blowback. Law enforcement is concerned for the reasons listed above. Gun store owners are concerned about the loss of a percentage of their sales, in a competitive market that often operates via large sales quantities and low profit margins per unit.
All of these are reasonable fears… and all can be allayed to some degree. Wheras 3D printed guns are currently a novelty, they will become more popular (due to pricing and increasing availability of printers). Their construction materials, durability and precision, however, are not equivalent to a tooled metal weapon. Until those hurdles are cleared, traditional firearms will remain the preferred weapon of legal gun owners, and that provides gun stores an opportunity to adapt to new market dynamics.
While the program to create a firearm will be available on the internet, the ownership and carrying laws will remain on both state and federal levels. Licensed carriers will not suddenly print working Thompson submachine guns and walk around with them in public as if in a movie version of prohibition-era Chicago. Instead, people who are responsible with guns but limited on finances will be able to produce a limited-use firearm for home protection.
Most of all, it will be incumbent upon responsible gun owners to be prepared to explain the rationale behind the Second Amendment and to demonstrate civic responsibility, because these weapons will be produced and used by dedicated criminals. Particularly in an era where the NRA may be tied to foreign espionage, it is a necessity that all legal gun owners be informed gun owners.
None of that, however, will matter to many, because Cody Wilson is still the man who created the first working 3D gun and the man who disseminated the plans to millions of others. Every time someone uses one in a crime, particularly one that ends in violence, his name will be cursed.