Civil Liberties

3D-Printed Guns 'Impossible' To Control, DHS Tells Law Enforcement. Well, That's the Whole Idea.


3D-printed Liberator handgun
Defense Distributed

Firearms created by 3D printing technology are likely beyond the ability of governments to restrict or control, the Department of Homeland Security advises law enforcement agencies in a bulletin prepared by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center. The bulletin, obtained and quoted by Fox News, apparently frets over the relative difficulty of detecting 3D-printed guns, as well as the ease with which they can be produced. It acknowledges the daunting task inherent in trying to prevent the distribution of designs for such guns, comparing that challenge to stopping the trading of music and movie files online.

From Fox News:

A new Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin warns it could be "impossible" to stop 3D-printed guns from being made, not to mention getting past security checkpoints.

A May 21 bulletin distributed to numerous state and federal law enforcement agencies and obtained by states that the guns, which can be made by downloading blueprints into cutting edge computers that mold three-dimensional items from melted plastic, "poses public safety risks" and are likely beyond the current reach of regulators. The guns threaten to render 3D gun control efforts useless if their manufacture becomes more widespread.

Under orders from the State Department, Defense Distributed pulled its designs for the Liberator handgun, depicted above, offline, while it prepares for a legal challenge to the order. But those plans had already been downloaded over 100,000 times and remain available from venues including Pirate Bay. The plans have already been modified, including to create working firearms on low-cost printers that are more readily affordable than the device used by Defense Distributed. With the plans released, endlessly replicable and morphing, the bulletin concedes that the cat is out of the bag:

"Proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production," the memo says. "Even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these digital files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files."

As a result, the memo concludes, "limiting access may be impossible."

I noted recently that preventing the DIY revolution that brings us easily produced homemade guns, and so much more, is now a goal confined to wishful thinking. And that, of course, is the whole idea of developing and spreading the technology — to put its control beyond the practical reach of the control freaks, even if that means frustrating a fearful majority.

Find more of Reason's coverage of 3D-printed guns and the related controversy here.