Our founding fathers ensured that our citizens had the right to bear arms. But when does this become too dangerous for society? Gun control has been a hot topic in politics for a while now and we’ve heard many different arguments for and against, crazy and sane. The recent popularity of 3D printing has expanded the battleground. Now, we have people claiming that 3D printing needs to be regulated because people can print guns. Is this something we need to be worried about? Are 3D printed guns a danger to society? To really understand this issue we need to understand what 3D printing is and how it works.
3D printing has its roots in the manufacturing industry and in the 1980s additive manufacturing began to appear. Instead of starting with a block of metal and cutting away pieces until it formed the part that was wanted, additive manufacturing added material until the part was formed. This process is the basis of 3D printing. The desired material is added layer by layer until the final part is created.
There are two major types of 3D printers, selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM). FDM printing is what people are normally talking about when they say 3D printing. This type uses a wire of plastic and extrudes the material through a heated nozzle. An FDM printer is what most people would have as a hobbyist and will cost anywhere between $100 to $3000. SLS printing uses powdered metal or plastic and a laser to melt the material layer by layer. These printers are almost exclusively used by manufacturing companies and can easily cost $200,000 or more.
While 3D printing allows people to make complex parts that would normally be impossible to make using conventional methods, 3D printed parts are not as strong. This means items like guns need to be carefully designed and made on high-quality printers. In the video above, the printer they used cost $500,000. It took that much money for only the ability to 3D print a gun, and to top it off, the gun is inferior to its conventional counterparts.
Consumer level 3D printers do not have the capabilities to print reliable guns at this time but it’s possible they will be able to do so in the future. But is this really a problem? The two most common arguments I see are, 3D printed guns are untraceable because they can be manufactured without serial numbers and that 3D printing guns will allow anyone to have a gun illegally.
According to the Department of Justice, 1.4 million guns were stolen in household burglaries between 2005 and 2010. That’s 1.4 million guns that cannot be tracked if they’re used in a crime. Another study by the Department of Justice shows that in gun related crimes 40 percent of guns used were obtained illegally, and 37 percent were obtained from family or friends. That’s 77 percent of guns used in crimes that cannot be tracked. With the high number of untraceable guns in the U.S.,For this reason I don’t believe we need to be worried about 3D printed guns being untraceable. This is not to say that it isn’t a problem, only that we need to focus on the already high number of illegal guns.
While it’s not practical for someone to 3D print guns unless they have quite a bit of extra money to blow, it is something that could become practical For this reason, it is important that we discuss ways to regulate it in a way that protects our freedoms. I’ve heard many times that gun designs should be banned or that 3D printing should be banned. Neither of these solutions solve the issue. You can’t regulate a computer design that anyone with the right software can make and you can’t ban an entire industry because someone can use something in a bad way. People don’t even have to buy a 3D printer. Someone who is determined enough can build their own and use design software to design a gun. These solutions are ignorant to how 3D printing operates.Instead, the solution needs to reward people for being responsible and doing the right thing while punishing those who misuse the technology. I feel that a better approach would be to set up an easy, safe, and legal way to 3D print guns. Americans already have the right to own guns. If we make it easy for people to get a license to print weapons, then we can focus on the real issue: illegal guns. Many times we try too hard to impose ridiculous gun control laws on others that end up backfiring and punishing those who wouldn’t misuse their rights while ignoring those who are. Instead of going after legal owners we need to focus on illegal owners. Whether we like it or not, people will have the ability to 3D print guns and we need to change the way we think of gun control if we want to find a real solution to the problem.