On the 3D Printer Hysteria

There’s a lot of talk out there about the 3D printed gun, much of it hysteria. Daniel Terdiman of C|Net likewise thinks this issue is overblown, and I tend to agree, at least from a technological perspective. A few people have sent me this example of a zip gun, to show how much the concept of a homemade gun can be improved upon just using a little ingenuity and some handiness. If you can’t print, you can always freehand.

While zip guns have been around for a while, I think the hysteria over Defense Distributed’s liberator is more over what it portends than what it actually is. While it’s always been easy to make single shot zip guns, a lot of people uninitiated to firearms wouldn’t ever think they could make one, and probably don’t realize it’s stupidly easy. But most people by now are familiar with printing from computers, and a technology that promises to be as easy as that, but make things like guns, is quite astonishing. While the truth is making a printed gun is not that easy, and making an improvised zip gun not that hard, in the rhetorical debate, it’s easier for the average low-information voter to see the connection between this technology and the obsolescence of gun control in a way that handiwork could never accomplish. I think that’s why the reaction is so strong. The idea of printing a gun floats a “you could do this to” meme that scares the hell out of those in power, and those who aspire to control power.

9 thoughts on “On the 3D Printer Hysteria”

  1. “It’s easier for the average low-information voter to see the connection between this technology and the obsolescence of gun control in a way that handiwork could never accomplish.”

    I’m not sure I agree with that, or that it will make any difference. I would say that most people, especially of the low-information variety, would just latch on to the “Well, let’s make it extra, extra, extra illegal to do that” solution.

    That seems to be the fundamental human reaction to almost everything they don’t like. I think that is illustrated by the popularity of the Hang’em High, Get Tough on Crime, Enforce Existing Laws argument, as a solution for gun crime, among our own pro-gun ranks, even though there is very little evidence of punishment beyond a certain point have any deterrence value, or for that matter, any evidence that reducing crime reduces the demand for gun control. The point being, not to debate the latter example points, but that people will demand legislation just because it feels right, or “makes a statement about who we are,” or whatever, without any real reasoning at all.

  2. Huh, the ad I see below the story is for prototype machine castings.

    There’s iron-y there. Pun intended.

  3. *shrug* if they are upset about the 3d printer, they must be flipping out over the illegal arms trade/manufacture that is going on in asia/middle east and the old soviet blocks.

    But in all seriousness, the attention this is getting is out of proportion to what is really going on in the world.

  4. People generally see guns as mythic and archetypical things. They don’t fully comprehend that they’re relatively simple machines made of a minimal number of parts to earthly tolerances.

    The idea of something like this being *printed* seems like the product of a demented fairyland. Even the cubicle geeks are mostly just making desk kitsch from the current generation of printers.

  5. Here’s the thoughts of a guy who does export control law professionally.

    As he says, there may be a public domain information exception. Odds are, the printer will become a controlled item. But really, State is just protecting their turf. No guns exported without doing their hoop dance, even if it is just a determination of whether they have jurisdiction.

  6. Won’t do any good for printers to become controlled items. You can already build one from readily-available parts…that was the genesis of the idea behind MakerBot. Linear guides, an appropriate print head, and a standard issue CNC controller.

  7. Well it makes it way easier to make a 30 round magazine and an AR-15 lower. That’s what I like.

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