Prohibitions Don't Work, And New Technology Makes That More Obvious

As I've mentioned before, the Ottoman Empire once punished tobacco use by death. That worked out so well, the law was rescinded a generation later amidst a cloud of fragrant smoke. Americans being slower learners, the war on drugs is a decades-old cliche in the United States, yet 42 percent of us have smoked grass and 16 percent of us have tried cocaine — the highest percentages recorded internationally by the World Health Organization. Likewise, gun controls have, as I've documented, met massive resistance for simple registration and laughable levels of compliance for confiscation schemes. Prohibitions have a wonderfully long track record of abject failure when it comes to eliminating, or even reducing the availability of, the things and behaviors at which they are targeted. And that's before we even get to the individually empowering world of new technology.

The popular prohibition movement of the moment has firearms in its ... err ... sights. Led by (really?) Vice President Joe Biden, a White House task force is apparently considering new gun laws that would restrict those scary-looking rifles known as "assault weapons," ban high-capacity magazines, track sales (maybe through registration?) and require whatever else the politicians in the group think will win them votes.

Meanwhile, a merry band of gun-rights activists known as Defense Distributed have been using 3D printing technology to develop the means of producing guns and related paraphernalia at home. Brian Doherty has already written about this development at length, and I've covered it myself. But as it happens, matters have moved forward, and Defense Distributed is now producing high-capacity magazines with 3D printers. The group's CEO, Cody Wilson, told Metro World News, "I have five people now making AK-47 magazines – they’re incredibly easy to reproduce."

That's in addition to the group's recent successes with producing actual gun receivers that work — even if the very first one broke after only six shots. Such success with a new technology is a clear sign of more to come as the technology, and expertise in using it, progresses. As Metro World News continued:

So how could the weapons be controlled? A spokesman for 3D print company Automaker said it is powerless; “we do not promote guns, but we cannot control the use of the product.” Neither can government intervene effectively, says Michael Weinberg, attorney specializing in emerging technologies for the U.S. Public Knowledge think tank. “When you apply anger over gun control to a general purpose technology there’s a lot of collateral damage”, he said. “It’s like if you regulate steel – a lot of productive areas would be lost. We don’t know enough about 3D printing to legislate the future.”

Basically, the cat is out of the bag. 3D printing means that prohibitions on mechanical devices — never successful in the past — are now more easily bypassed than ever.

Drugs, too, if a related technology known as chemical printing is any indicator. That technology is earlier in its development, but it holds promise for solving the orphan drug problem, and for making end-runs around drug prohibition. From the Huffington Post:

Recently, Professor Lee Cronin from the University of Glasgow has taken the idea of 3D printing a step further. He's using a $2,000 3D printer to print lab equipment--blocks containing chambers that connect to mixing chambers--and then injecting the desired ingredients into the chambers to produce organic and/or inorganic reactions that can yield chemicals, and in some cases new compounds. 

Just as early 3D printers were used for rapid prototyping, his new chemical printer can initially be used to rapidly discover new compounds.  And if you look at the development of 3D printers, it is not hard to see that in the near future you could print highly specialized chemicals and even pharmaceuticals. The team is currently working on printing ibuprofen, the main ingredient in popular painkillers. This, of course, raises a regulatory red flag, and it will be difficult to regulate what individuals in all parts of the world will do with access to the Internet and a 3D chemical printer.

Of course, anybody who has ever grown their own dope or made black powder for the hell of it (and then blown up a windowsill — sorry, Mom!) knows that you don't need high-tech to render prohibitions irrelevant. The Ottoman Empire's ban on tobacco failed because people ignored it, technology aside. Bans fail because enough people to whom the prohibitions apply refuse to obey them. Advancing technology just makes it easier to ignore laws with minimal effort and risk.

My own belief is that laws are relevant only for defining the penalties for engaging in acts that virtually everybody agrees are wrong. When prohibitionists sputter, "so ... so ... should we just legalize rape because some people still do it?" they're missing the point. Rape is rightfully and effectively illegal because almost everybody in our society agrees it's wrong and should be punished. It also has a victim who generally takes great exception to being abused and is inclined to seek punishment for the criminals. Take a victimless activity and add a constituency that thinks it's a good thing and that the law is what's wrong, and you have the perfect makings for legal impotence.

It's tempting to say that the age of prohibition is over, but in terms of practical enforcement, it really never happened at all. Politicians will sputter this year about guns and next year about something else that sticks in their craw. But those of us who don't want to be restricted won't be. And technology is making our quest for continued freedom ever easier.

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  • ||

    You're criticizing prohibitionists for the results of their laws when everyone knows that it's intentions that matter most.

  • Sernylan||

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions knee jerk reactions (and political ambitions).

  • ||

    Well, that and punishing (some of the) people doing the thing you don't like. And, of course, CONTROL.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Wasn't Lee Cronin Gene Coon's pen name?

  • JeremyR||

    "It's tempting to say that the age of prohibition is over, but in terms of practical enforcement, it really never happened at all."

    And yet our prisons are overflowing, not with violent criminals, but those that violated prohibition laws of some sort (drugs mostly, but weapon possession is certainly enforced. Ask Plaxico Buress about that one)

  • JeremyR||

    Okay, admittedly, he was a dumbass. But 2 years in jail? People who kill others often serve less, ask Leonard Little also of the NFL, drunk driving, killed a woman, only a few days in prison (and later was caught drunk driving again, not even charged)

  • jdtuccille||

    I do believe I mentioned the whole Ottoman death penalty for tobacco thing.

  • Sernylan||

    "the whole Ottoman death penalty for tobacco thing."

    A small price to pay for public order, and the welfare of our children. A courageous law, misunderstood by a foolish populace for whom it was meant to protect...cast not pearl before swine.

    [/sarc]

  • Hyperion||

    Yeah, and the really sad part of it is that some of them will become violent criminals because the state has made social pariahs of them. And these days, where the hell is a drug felon going to get a decent job, even years after the conviction?

    So here you have a person who can't work, but still has to eat and has other desires just like everyone else. Bad combination.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...we do not promote guns, but we cannot control the use of the product.

    DESTROY IT! DESTROY THE TECHNOLOGY NOW! Imagine how much better the world would be if VHS technology had been nipped in the bud. Or peer-to-peer networking or MP3 compression. The genie is still near the bottle. STUFF IT BACK IN NOW.*

    * That's what she said.

  • ||

    or made black powder for the hell of it (and then blown up a windowsill — sorry, Mom!)

    "This may be my last entry. I am almost exhausted. Unless I find the weapon the Metron mentioned, I have very little time left. Native sulfur, diamonds...this place is a mineralogist's dream! Yet...there is something about sulfur...something very old. Something...if only I could remember."

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Sssssssssss. I will be merciful... AND QUICK.

  • ||

    FoE, you are a sensualist.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You bet your pointed ears, you Vulcan prick.

  • ||

    Pointed?!?

  • ||

    He's clearly Romulan since Vulcans have no ego to bruise. QED

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Or he's half human. He's a mutinous, disloyal, computerized half-breed. An overgrown jackrabbit. An elf with a hyperactive thyroid. He's a traitor from a race of traitors. Disloyal to the core. Rotten! Like the rest of his subhuman race. And he's got the GALL to make love to that girl...

  • ||

    Well that's not really fair, SugarFree certainly isn't a girl.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yo, fuck Mythbusters.

  • Sevo||

    Can you 3-D print some bourbon?
    Seriously, there is no good that can be outlawed that can't be made or procured. Prisoners in max-confinement prisons get dope; how much more evidence do you need?

  • Sevo||

    That's the noun "good", as in economic thingy.

  • SKR||

    well, you could use a cnc to sinter sand into glass in order to print a still.

  • ||

    Well so far the best part of the BCS title game is that the camera keeps showing Alabama QB AJ McCarron's absolutely gorgeous girlfriend sitting in the stands.

  • Sevo||

    Looks like the announcers are filling air time already.

  • Mike M.||

    For a second there I thought that old Musburger was going to have an orgasm right on the air!

  • Sevo||

    The rodent on his head would rebel!

  • ||

    He basically told all the young children in AL to become QBs so they could bang hot chicks like that.

  • ||

    The game is going about as I expected. Maybe the older people around here know differently but Notre Dame has been over-rated and over-covered my entire college football fan lifetime.

  • ||

    They have been overrated, and considering that they came in as 9.5 point dogs (3rd highest spread in a championship game in BCS history), I don't think they were really expected to win.

    What's surprising is that ND can't seem to tackle anyone. This defense was great during the regular season. This doesn't even look like the same team.

  • ||

    I know that Vegas knows better but the sports media are obsessed with them. I know better but it still grows tiresome.

    I don't think it's that surprising though. Stanford and OU are the only decent teams they've played.

  • Sevo||

    "What's surprising is that ND can't seem to tackle anyone."

    I've been amazed all season at the number of defensive players who think tackling shoulder pads will somehow stop a runner, pro and college.
    Grab the ankles; the guy isn't going anywhere his feet ain't. Grammar-school football coaching.
    (and, yeah, the guy might well be kicking; so?)

  • ||

    Oh and also: Speed.

    The one thing that people have always said separates the SEC from the rest of the nations is their quickness at all positions.

    They're making the defense look just plain stupid at times.

  • Mike M.||

    So much for the idea of Brian Kelly getting an NFL gig after tonight. Saban put a coaching clown suit on his ass.

  • ||

    Don't really see how you lay this at his feet.

    This ass whoopin' has been all about the canyon that separates the talent of these two teams.

  • ||

    +1

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    My own belief is that laws are relevant only for defining the penalties for engaging in acts that virtually everybody agrees are wrong.

    So I guess FISA and posse comitatus are out the window?

  • Sevo||

    Thank you, Mr. Pedantic. Yes, those who drive at X on a road where X = the speed limit find it relevant when they pay the fine.
    Which sort of misses the point, don't you think.

  • Sevo||

    Ooops:
    "those who drive at X on a road where X = the speed limit"

  • Sevo||

    OK, got it. The 'greater than' symbol isn't going to show on Reason.com, and there is no warning of that.

    So:
    ..."those who drive at greater than X on a road where X=the speed limit"...

    Damn squirrels...

  • Hyperion||

    And if you look at the development of 3D printers, it is not hard to see that in the near future you could print highly specialized chemicals and even pharmaceuticals

    Well, if anyone can just print anything that they want, it will destroy jerbz. We have to ban this evil now, for the good of the working people politicians and their corporate cronies.

    Seriously this will give nannies like Bloomturd and his minions, a fucking heart attack. They will be all over banning this technology and the GOP will go right along with them, because evil drugs are bad and people just can't be printing evil drugs.

  • Drake||

    One of the guys I shoot with used to be a bicycle repairman. He built a (semi-auto) Sten from scratch. Not bad to shoot and accurate out to 100 yards.

  • Sernylan||

    "Seriously this will give nannies like Bloomturd and his minions, a fucking heart attack. "

    God forbid they 3-D print out some 32oz cups for their sodas, this must all end now!

  • Hyperion||

    It's tempting to say that the age of prohibition is over, but in terms of practical enforcement, it really never happened at all

    Without prohibition, the progressive cause is lost. So expect some very serious attacks on this technology from the left. And about 99% of our elected government seem to think that their entire reason for existing is to ban stuff.

    These are some interesting times we are living in. Not sure how well this is going to turn out, but it sure the hell is not going to be boring.

  • db||

    The suburbs around cities in Japan were considered legitimate military bombing targets by the US during WWII because as the war progressed, the Japanese government crowdsourced weapons manufacturing, asking regular folks to manufacture parts that could be made in home garages and workshops.

  • Sevo||

    Pretty sure "asking" isn't the proper term.
    The Japanese WWII government didn't "ask", no more than Stalin "asked".

  • db||

    Yeah, ok. Didn't change the fact that they were considered "industrial" targets.

  • The Derider||

    The point of prohibitions is to raise prices and rent seek, duh. Of course they work.

    And there are some markets where that's probably a good hing.

  • ||

    Fuck off, slaver.

  • Solanum||

  • Sevo||

    The Derider| 1.7.13 @ 9:52PM |#
    "The point of prohibitions is to raise prices and rent seek, duh. Of course they work."

    OK, and? Are you a fan of Joe Kennedy?

  • Gadianton||

    Prohibition -- It works so well that the 21st Amendment is about Presidential Term Limits.

  • Cytotoxic||

    22nd.

  • ||

    Fail.

  • An0nB0t||

    Impressive. Most impressive indeed.

  • SKR||

    you can print a lot of materials including metals, but the really amazing thing is how ridiculously easy it is to make new cnc machines once you have made one. CNC milling machine or a 2d cnc bed for a drill press? no problem. That gets into old fashioned production methods that can produce even better products then say an extrusion printer. once someone understands stepper motors and linear movement you can make a whole awful lot.

  • Drake||

    I was going to add something similar. Once you have access to a machine shop, you can pretty much set up a gun production line. Simple submachine guns like the Grease Gun are really easy to make.

  • SIV||

    We have shitty 3D printers that can make barely functional items out of plastic and nylon. The Future Is Now crowd doesn't want to be reminded they got beat up by the kids in metal shop.

    As for prohibition, I can assure you the market in illegal un-taxed suppressors is minuscule.They aren't hard to make but no one wants to get caught possessing, much less manufacturing one.

    I could see draconian kiddy porn-style sentences handed out just for having certain metal parts and a 3D printer in the same location. The ATF and federal courts do something similar now for certain shapes and sizes of metal.

  • ||

    I think the lack of suppressors has a lot to do with the fact that they don't function like the masses think they do.

    If they in fact did make guns whisper quiet than I think you would see a larger proliferation of them on the underground market.

    As it is, weighing the penalties vs. their utility means that illegal possession loses out quite a bit.

  • Hyperion||

    Probably most folks, myself included, do not care. It's not necessary for self defense in the home or against our tyrant overlord wannabes. If I am shooting a home invader or tyrant, I don't really care how much noise it makes.

    There just is not high demand for suppressors, and most people, including myself, would think you are probably up to no good if you want one. Firearms themselves however, big demand and growing. So it's a totally different situation.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I'd love to go to the range and have to wear little or no hearing protection. If suppressors didn't have all of the bullshit regulations surrounding them and the $200 tax stamp I'd probably buy one.

    I think in Sweden they are required to hunt (in order to control noise pollution) but I may be wrong about that.

  • Hyperion||

    I'd love to go to the range and have to wear little or no hearing protection

    I had thought of that, but I just don't think it's worthy of a fight. Now we have a bunch of wreckless gun grabbers trying to do an end around of the constitution to worry about. Political suicide for lots of congress critters, and a huge backlash of who knows WTF, across large parts of the country. But these little mini-tyrants will throw anyone under the bus to achieve their insane agenda, and they are apparently too stupid to really contemplate the possible consequences.

  • SIV||

    There just is not high demand for suppressors, and most people, including myself, would think you are probably up to no good if you want one.

    Shooting in a suburban backyard or your basement (into a safe backstop)is "up to no good"?

    The restrictions on suppressors are at least as ridiculous as those on short barreled rifles,shotguns and stocked pistols. Repealing the NFA should be at the top of the list of "common sense gun laws".

  • Drake||

    If OSHA managed gun sales instead of the ATF, suppressors would be mandatory.

  • ||

    Right, my point though is that they aren't even that popular amongst criminals.

  • IceTrey||

    A suppressed Ruger 10/22 is the ultimate survival weapon.

  • Cytotoxic||

    I don't really understand how this 'chemical printer' can work. How would you clean stuff afterward? I'd like it to exist. Another awesome piece of the Fallout universe IRL.

  • Hyperion||

    I don't understand how it can work either, but I have it from reliable sources that it 'will' work, and in the future we will be able to print all sorts of things.

    I can see the manufacture and sale of the printers being highly regulated and having some type of software control for printing things sort of like game copyright protection works now(steam for instance) so that you have to be online and connected to the program before the printer will work. So there would be a database of what you printed and some things would be restricted.

    Of course, just like software copyrights, people will get around it if they really want to.

    The other thing is that even though I mentioned progs being control freaks, which they are, most of them will want this technology just as much as everyone else and eventually it will be impossible for legislators and their cronies to control it to some extent. Especially for things that people really want and maybe cannot get legally, like drugs and guns.

  • ||

    Good luck making those kinds of controls work. Android skins, iOS, PS3 and XBOX 360 have all been rooted in some form. The incentive to overcome those types of restrictions would be far too high to keep it from happening.

  • Hyperion||

    I agree with you, in the end, it won't work. But they will try it.

    It would be incredibly expensive to implement the control structure and government would suck at it like they do everything else.

    The problem for our government overlords is that for them to maintain the level of control they have over citizens, they have to keep the welfare state going. This while they try to take on more and more and more regulation all of the time.

    No matter how much they think that they can keep on spending forever, in the end they will just be overwhelmed and broke.

    I hope that day comes sooner than later.

  • ||

    I hope that day comes sooner than later.

    Agreed.

    ZeroHedge always makes it seem so close

  • stateless||

    The government will attempt to require a license for 3d printers and they will require a chip be placed into 3d printers so they can only print out approved material when this fails they will outlaw them.

  • Sevo||

    Then the government will attempt to require a license for the parts to build a 3D printer.
    And when that doesn't work the government will attempt to require a license to have the knowledge to build the parts to...
    Rinse and repeat.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Here's a kiwi breaking down the gun control debate. Excellent video.

  • waaminn||

    All Americans should be armed ALL of the time! End of story!

    www.anon-mix.tk

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Alex jones vs Piers Morgan.
    What a gong show.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Mikhail is collectivism's greatest gift to the world.

  • IceTrey||

    Here's a guy who made an AK receiver out of a shovel. That's why 3D printing a crappy AR lower is so funny. You can make an AK out of pretty much any old piece of sheet steel.

    http://www.northeastshooters.c.....mi-warning!

  • An0nB0t||

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/giffo.....OwGGazhd8E

    Just in case proggies weren't tired of appeals to emotion and insultingly bad arguments, here's a doozy of a Rummy Sawyer interview. I'd be willing to watch the whole thing if I could be assured that Bonnie Bedelia would walk across frame and knock Sawyer on her ass at the end.

    At no point in my life have I ever been more certain that people, even people of modest or impressive intelligence, are selectively impervious to elementary reason or argument. If they are this quixotic and moronic in fighting an unwinnable battle against firearm owners, I can only imagine their reaction when Keynesianism collapses (again).

  • Zair||

    Good post, but I object to this part-

    "Rape is rightfully and effectively illegal because almost everybody in our society agrees it's wrong and should be punished. It also has a victim who generally takes great exception to being abused and is inclined to seek punishment for the criminals."

    You seem to imply that rape is only illegal because "almost everybody" believes it's wrong. It would be just as wrong if only 49% believed that, or 25%, or 10%. It'd be just as immoral for a majority of people to legalize rape as it is for a majority of people to prohibit private consumption of unpopular substances, or "unnatural acts" by two consenting adults.

    I'm sure you think the same way, but your phrasing could be misconstrued.

  • goodpointMax||

    I agree, this point of consensus is fallacious. A more apt analogy is that violent acts are bad because there is a victim, while owning a weapon is amoral. Just like raping is bad because there is a victim, while simply having genitals harms none.

  • ||

    Yup. He made a poor argument. I'm sure it will come back to bite all of us in the ass. Libertarians have to be perfect in every argument or we get laughed out of the room. Progressives and conservatives with flexible morals and weak ideas never have to be since they run the show and their bad ideas are sadly more mainstream. In other words, it's good to be the king.

    I fucking hate people.

  • PH2050||

    I also hate people. Yet, not all of them are bad and some are, surprisingly, actually worth knowing.

    Interesting how "The" Industrial Revolution consolidated manufacturing but this next industrial revolution seems poised to contribute to the opposite, radically decentralizing manufacturing power and also political power.

    Of course, as someone who finds libertarian ideas attractive, I approve.

    Wish me luck as I work in biotech towards similar liberating advancements for humans.

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  • BiMonSciFiCon||

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