Everyone loves the idea of 3D printing: The hyper-efficiency of making what’s needed locally rather than stocking up on big inventories shipped long distances could be a game changer for manufacturing (not to mention the environment), and the ability to print dehydrated foods could transform the developing world.
But a couple months ago a group calling itself Defense Distributed started a project exploring a different use for 3D printers with a whole darker set of ramifications: Called Wiki Weapon, the project seeks not only to manufacture guns at home with a 3D printer, but to create an open-source forum for sharing weapons schematics, so that anyone can theoretically make a gun at home.
As 3D printers become more prevalent in the future, the NRA’s dream of “a gun in the hand of every American,” which is already a statistical reality, could become a literal reality. As Wired points out, it is technically legal to manufacture pistols and revolvers at home, though regulations prohibit making machine guns without a license.
By this point, you should be starting to get a sense for how Second Amendment rights intersects with advancing 3D printing technology in extremely complicated ways. If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but who is actually going to want to make a gun at home,” you’ve vastly underestimated the passion of both gun enthusiasts and technology enthusiasts.
Announcing the Wiki Weapon project, Defense Distributed created a campaign on indiegogo.com to raise $20,000 to lease a 3D printer. Indiegogo shut down the campaign after they’d raised $2,000 citing company policy against funding weapons, but by that point Defense Distributed had generated enough interest from enthusiasts that they raised the rest of the money in Bitcoins. If you know anything about Bitcoins, you’ll know the currency isn’t the easiest thing in the world to use—the people funding the project were passionate enough that they didn’t let this deter them.
Having raised the $20,000, Defense Distributed leased its 3D printer from Stratasys and rolled up its sleeves to get to work.
Less than a week later, however, before the printer was even out of its box, Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed received an email from Stratasys saying it was recalling its printer. The next day, contractors showed up at Wilson’s apartment and took the printer back.
Wilson went to the office of the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), and was brought into a room and told that though ATF believed he had not broken any laws the agency would send officials to his home to conduct an “investigation.” Needless to say, he has not received any assistance in retrieving his 3D printer.
This summer’s Aurora massacre put the issue of guns in America back in the spotlight. The argument between those who want everyone in America to be armed and those who want no one to be armed is irreconcilable—it’s been going on for decades and will continue for decades.
But 3D printing technology will force us to re-examine the reach of government regulation in our lives. When the Second Amendment was crafted the founding fathers were talking about muskets–they definitely couldn’t have conceived of an AR-15 assault rile; and they absolutely, sure as shit could not have imagined 3D printing.
Does that mean the Second Amendment should get repealed? Of course not. As far as I can tell it’s just another ethical quandary we’ll have to chalk up to that all-encompassing 21st century epithet: It’s complicated.