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3D-printed gun prompting an act of Congress

It was bound to happen sooner or later. But this was probably not the opportune time to show the world that a real gun—a plastic gun—can be made using a 3D printer (additive manufacturing process). Leave it to those 20-somethings to come up with this.   

Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Texas, has released the 3D printable CAD files for his “Liberator.” The file was supposed to be uploaded to Wilson’s non-profit organizations site, Defense Distributed, a collection of printable gun files (
Wilson worked on this prototype for nearly eight months. It has 16 pieces printed in ABS with a Dimension SST printer from Stratasys. The exception is a single nail used as a firing pin. According to information in the media, the gun can fire standard handgun rounds. It also has interchangeable barrels to accommodate different calibers of ammunition. Congress is now taking a look at this and already talking about creating a “law” (we need more, for sure) to prohibit the making of guns using the additive manufacturing process. 
The additive manufacturing technology has advanced so far over the past two decades that it was bound to happen: from simple, not so great parts for prototypes, touchy-feely ‘samples’ to end-use components and parts that can be made from almost any powdered resin or metal. Can we say that technology can only be used for what deem to be “good” uses? 

That brings up another point: everything can be used for “good” or “bad” (of course that also depends upon who’s doing the judging), and ultimately it’s people who can turn technology created for beneficial uses into technology used for destruction.

Take a look at plastics, for example. The plastics industry gets blamed for all the trash in the world, even though it’s not the industry that creates trash.  The plastics industry creates lightweight automotive parts that increase the mileage of vehicles, single-use medical devices that prevent the spread of disease, packaging that reduces the need for metal, glass and paper. Not that those commodities are bad, but as technology evolves we find new ways of making the stuff of everyday life that benefit people and the environment. However, not everyone sees it that way.

Just this week I received an e-mail from one of my detractors who accused me of supporting an industry that has produced what the e-mailer said has become the scourge of the earth (the plastics industry), and giving me some not-so-nice instructions of what to do with myself. This person has no idea of the benefits of plastics technology and how it has contributed to health, safety, reduced energy usage, and more.

Wilson put one more metal part in the gun: a 6-oz piece of steel so that it can be detected by metal detectors. Now the gun complies with the Undetectable Firearms Act. 

Okay, so there’s a law against undetectable firearms—so why should Congress ban guns built with 3D printing/additive manufacturing technology? Well, probably because someone will build one without the metal piece to make an undetectable gun. The bill, introduced by New York congressman Steve Israel, would renew the Undetectable Firearms Act with new provisions to address specifically 3D printed components—a bill that would extend the Act to keep up with technology (which is the best they can do – they can never stay ahead of it or anticipate what it will be or the potential for harm).
Other ramifications include the 3D printer manufacturers. If someone gets shot and killed with a gun printed using a Dimension SST printer from Stratasys, does Stratasys get sued?

According to an article in Forbes, “Stratasys seized a printer it had rented to Defense Distributed after the company learned how its machine was being used.” Obviously Stratasys sees the potential for some liability in all of this. An article in Wired said that Stratasys pulled the printer because Defense Distributed doesn’t have a license to manufacture firearms.
So how do we handle the advancements of technology? Who gets to decide how technology is developed and used? Who gets to decide what a “good” use is versus a “bad” use? Can we ultimately prevent human beings from taking any technology and using it for their own diabolical means? Or do we develop new technology and let the chips fall where they may hoping that the beneficial good will outweigh the harm that might be caused?

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