Modern technology can do amazing things, things that were only a dream 10 years ago. While technology for the most part moves the world forward there are at times issues that seem to hold it back and one such issue has been in the news lately: 3-D printed guns. While the ability to print a gun has been available for sometime it has just recently come to the forefront when the plans to be able to print them were to be made public.


The short of it is this is the end result of four years of litigation between Texas-based Defense Distributed and its founder Cody Wilson and the government. Wilson has a blueprint that will allow a 3-D printer to make a homemade firearm and planned to post the file on August 1 after reaching a settlement with the Trump administration and the Department of State. Nineteen state attorneys general sued (at the time of this writing) claiming that the settlement was unconstitutional and a Federal judge in the Western District of Washington agreed. The file, which had been already made available and downloaded, was made unavailable following the ruling on Wilson’s website.

The argument for 3-D printed guns

Proponents argue that these guns pose no danger to society and that they will be used for either target shooting or for self defense, essentially a 2nd Amendment issue. Wilson argues that no crimes have been committed with plastic guns (not a shocker since so few exist). Only one person has been arrested to date for possessing a plastic gun, a man in Japan who was curious about it and made one. It stands to reason that going through the expense of making on of the “ghost guns” will be more time, effort and money than a criminal would like to invest, especially when an illegal handgun can be procured easily enough on the black market.

Considering that 3-D printers cost several thousands of dollars it is unlikely that common criminals will have the means to afford one. These guns have also been found to be unreliable at best, easily jamming and breaking due to the stress, with some being as much of a danger to the shooter as the target. That has been the argument put forth by their proponents. The NRA though recently stated that they believe that these guns are illegal citing a 1988 law that makes it illegal to manufacture an untraceable firearm.

In the case of the actual downloadable file it raises a 1st Amendment issue as well. The Justice Department ruled that Americans should access, discuss and reproduce technical documents. Wilson hailed that as a victory, though a short-lived one at that but is this any different than say open-source software? That can be used in the commission of a crime just as much as a 3-D printed gun can. Can the government block a file that breaks no laws from being downloaded is perhaps the bigger question? If so, any politician could potentially block a file that places them in an embarrassing situation from being shared with the world.

The argument against 3-D printed guns

The argument set forward against 3-D printed guns is for the most part straightforward. Why should criminals be able to manufacture untraceable firearms which require no background check to acquire which can then be used in the commission of a crime? It is a public safety hazard since it is made of plastic and can evade a metal detector. The judge in this case agreed since 3-D printers are becoming more common in public spaces meaning more people would potentially have access to them. It will be a Pandora’s Box, once the blueprints are released there is no turning back they reason, though that box seems to have been opened already.

Of course today it starts with a handgun. Wilson is already working on a 3-D printed rifle. In a few years it could be possible to create something heavier like a mortar or rocket launcher. Technology always improves and quickly at that so there is a good chance that something heavier and more deadly could be made within the next generation. Considering that houses and offices are already being constructed with 3-D printers it is not out of the realm of possibility in the least.

The future

The issue is not dead, instead a hearing on the issue is scheduled for August 10. Considering that the file has already been downloaded or can be procured easily enough the genie is already out of the bottle. There is legitimate concern about a flood of guns becoming available and being unable to be traced to an owner (never mind that criminals do regularly remove any identifiable information too) and that no one would have to pass a background check. Could these issues be hammered out in a deal with the Trump administration? Doubtful, as criminals would not be interested in following the law.

Will we see an army of people trying to overthrow the government with their “ghost guns” or an increase of shootings because of these? While it is doubtful on either count the potential for it is there and could become a clear and present danger for society given today’s political tensions. All it would take is one disgruntled person to make a march, protest or rally go horribly wrong. This is the tip of the spear so to speak for what technology can do now and what it will be able to do in the future and this will be a precedent setting case that will in all probability make it before the Supreme Court before it is settled.

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