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3D-Printed Guns Are a Great Example of Technophobia in Media, Politics

They are years away (if ever) from becoming the choice of bad guys, who can already make untraceable weapons, so why all the fear-mongering?

Technology Liberation FrontTechnology Liberation FrontThe hysteria over guns created by 3D-printing technology is a classic example of media and political panic driven by fear of new technology rather than any sort of measurable threat. This is "Craigslist Killer" territory, where a relatively new technology is presumed to somehow unleash all new sorts of problems.

The federal government wisely chose to settle a sure-lose lawsuit with Defense Distributed, a "capitulation" to reality that immediately set off alarm bells among law enforcement and state-level governments.

Paul Penzone, sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, claimed in the pages of The Washington Post that "anyone with an Internet connection and a 3D printer—readily available in stores and online—will be able to make an untraceable handgun, rifle or assault weapon with just a few clicks."

Penzone further warns in the Post that "drug cartels, arms traffickers and terrorists will be able to increase their revenue and the volume of weaponry at the expense of our safety through an untraceable and unlimited method of firearms manufacturing and distribution."

Scary, scary stuff. And it's being echoed by President Donald Trump and the NRA, two groups whose support for the First and Second Amendments come with lots of qualifiers.

While stopping short of saying blueprints or CADs for 3D-printed guns should not be available to the public, the NRA has rushed to say that the objects themselves are already illegal under existing federal law:

The reality of the situation, as I point out in a column for Foxnews.com, is that 3D-printed guns won't increase crime even if and when (and that's a Big Bertha-sized if and when) they become something other than a plaything for tech-forward hobbyists. The printing technology to crank out cheap and durable guns is a long time away, criminals already have access to more guns than they can use, and crime has gone down even as the number of weapons in circulation has gone up.

According to government data, since 1996 the number of firearms in America has nearly doubled, to 393 million guns. Over the same time period, it became easier to get concealed-carry permits to walk around armed.

And yet, "from 1993 to 2015, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 18.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older," according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which published a comprehensive report last October.

Over the same period, rates for crimes using guns dropped from 7.3 per 100,000 people to 1.1 per 100,000 people. The homicide rate is down from 7.4 to 4.9 per 100,000 people.

It's impossible to know whether the increase in guns caused the decrease in violence, but we do know for sure that it didn't spark a "Mad Max"-style free-for-all either. There is no reason to think that would change if and when 3D-printing allows us all to become our own gunsmiths in our home offices.

Full thing here.

Unless you want to ascribe something magical to technology and panic the hell out, there's no reason to believe that the correlation between increases in gun ownership and decreases in violent and gun-related crimes will change.

3D printing is a revolutionary technology that is already having massive impacts on all sorts of manufacturing processes. It augurs a world of individualized drugs, one-off classic-car parts, and even on-demand human organs. To the extent that it allows people to do more of whatever they want, it threatens government control on a million different levels. But it's best to understand Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed's push on guns as a demonstration project of how technology is routing around old forms of regulation and control, not as an end in itself. That people in charge are flipping out the way they are will, ironically, only speed up the process by which they come to be seen as hopelessly retrograde and, ultimately, dispensable. When ride-sharing services came online, the old guard immediately tried to assert control and has been able to semi-successfully restrict new ways of doing business. But in the long run, taxi commissions will disappear. So too will the techno-panic over 3D printing. There will always be something even newer to be scared of.

Last night on Fox Business' Kennedy, Greg Gutfeld cited my column and the "demonic" Reason magazine, whose July issue included a story on how to legally make an "off-the-books gun with parts bought on the internet, to make many of these points. Take a look:

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  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

    Where's the Gutfeld video, fucko?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Reason thinks that average, untrained civilians indiscriminately firing untraceable plastic guns into the third dimension - a dimension scientists know little about - is not something the news media should be informing citizens about in the most frightening terms possible?

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    It's because Nick Gillespie is a stupid jerkass and Reason has a stupidly inconsistent stupid point of view on everything.

  • Oli||

    Sucks when a news media doesn't follow party line, doesn't it? How dare they present different opinions, so you have to actually read an article to find out if you agree with it!

  • Bloving||

    Why do you think the average American Gun Owner would fire any type of firearm in any direction indiscriminately?
    Prejudiced much?

  • Brett Bellmore||

    It's not about technology phobia, it's about gun phobia.

    The effort to ban 3d gun files from the internet was just the toe in the door to ban ALL firearms info from the internet. Because they thought they had to opportunity to prevent constitutionally protected information from making the transition to a new medium.

    It was about the guns, not the printers.

  • Shirley Knott||

    It was two pronged.
    An assault on guns but also an assault on speech. Or vice versa.

  • ThomasD||

    Speech just happened to be an obstacle to their preferred outcome.

    Like a toddler standing between Chuck Schumer and a microphone.

  • Shirley Knott||

    The fundamental mistake is to think there is only ever one singular preferred outcome.
    Control over speech is one of the preferred outcomes in play on this.

  • ThomasD||

    Well ok.

    But I don't think they want that perception to be widely held.

    At least not until they've got the gun situation more controlled.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    No, I think a good deal of it IS technology phobia. The Progressive Left really seems to me to live in an extended fantasy version of the 1920's and '30's. In their special bubble world the Soviet Union is still all wonderful potential instead of realized horror. Rail transit is still practical and there is yet some hope of killing the popularity of the automobile. Guns are MUCH simpler, and when people think of postols they think of revolvers (see, these idiots are out of date even for the 1920's). And Persons of Color knew their place, and those few who were educated enough to stamd with their Ofay sponsers were A Credit To Their Race.

    This is a complete fantasy, of course. And, when you get right down to it, a nasty, elitist, racist, authoritarian fantasy.

    But Trump is the racist....

  • Inigo Montoya||

    So it's just gun phobia and not technology phobia?

    So why are many of the same people also scared of nuclear power, scared of fracking, scared of GMO plants, scared of gene editing, and even deathly scared of Russians who post stuff on social media?

    The answer is they're scared of technology or at least scared of the stuff their leaders tell them to be scared of.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Montoya, I number myself among those concerned about each of your various categories.

    1. Nuclear power. This one I'm least concerned about, but note anyway that the practices and engineering which have prevailed in that industry made it unworthy of public support. Maybe something better can be engineered. Until then, way too dangerous. Examples abound.

    2. Fracking. You have to be a climate change denier to support it. I'm not a climate change denier. Also, pollution issues, with methods cloaked in secrecy. Also, nasty disruptions for the lives of people unluckily situated with regard to fracking sites.

    3. GMO plants. The way that's managed, it's about massive, deliberate environmental destruction. Leave food safety completely out of it. If you think the world can live without bugs and weeds, you're the one in need of technical updating.

    4. Gene editing. What kind of a moron would I have to be to suppose gene editing technology will never be weaponized? Or to suppose that when it is weaponized, the survival of every living thing on the planet will not then depend on the judgment and self-restraint of people stupid enough to weaponize gene editing.

    5. Social media and foreign rivals. That's just an extra-nasty subset of a bigger problem—unedited publishing. That one I can't explain, because characters. You should be concerned about it.

  • DrZ||

    Thousands of people killed in the U.S. from nuclear electrical generation. Plants blowing up all over the place. Meltdowns to China.

    Irresponsible nuclear industry.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    DrZ, if your sarcasm weren't misplaced, nuclear plant operators could buy affordable insurance to cover all the damages they might cause. They can't. That shows the insurance industry, anyway, thinks your sarcasm is stupid.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Unedited publishing? You mean any run-of-the-mill schmuck can put something online without it being vetted and approved by a superior?

    OH, THE FUCKING HUMANITY!!!!!!!

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    And you proved Montoya's point for him.

  • tchaff||

    >nuclear power

    You ought to look into Gen III and Gen IV nuclear power. What you seek is already out there.

    You have to be in favor of climate change not to support nuclear power at this point. Renewables will never suffice.

    If you really want to control 'unedited publishing', you are not in favor of democracy. Remember what Seneca said: "Who will guard the guards themselves?"

  • TxJack 112||

    I love how people such as you have so carefully restructured you positions on so many issues. No one denies the climate is changing. The debate is over the cause. You insist the change is 100% the result of man made action but lack any supportable data to prove you are correct. Instead you attack those with different opinions by labeling them "climate change deniers" when the label is untrue. Also, FYI, fracking has been used since the 1950s and the regulations on the materials used are draconian. My best friend is mud engineer working in Marsailles shale of upper midwest so I know all about fracking

  • Juice||

    "The Death of Privacy"

    Well, it seems they were pretty spot on with that one.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Remember when Time was considered a serious publication?

  • ThomasD||

    i'm only 52.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Kennedy didnt even mention that you could already build your own gun via lathe and other metal working equipment.

    The hardest thing about firearms to do yourself are primers on ammo.

  • Jay Dee||

    There is a small community experimenting with reloading primers should the need arise .

  • TxJack 112||

    Reloading primers? Seriously? How?

  • TxJack 112||

    What? Priming cases is a snap In fact reloading ammo os a snap. The only issue is the up front cost of equipment

  • ThomasD||

    The fear mongers jumped on this because they (rightly) thought the public largely unfamiliar with the technical details, and practical limitations of 3D printing.

    Of course, looking at how Gillespie is trying to spin the actual statements of Trump and the NRA, it would appear that there is a tad bit more mongering going on.

  • Naaman Brown||

    What a lot hysteria over nada.

    A patient person with a vise, files, drill and scrap metal can build a better single shot pistol than that plastic monstrosity, smaller and more durable.

    Public library, 1960s, I found a copy of Che Guevera's Guerrilla Warfare book which diagrammed how to build a mortar for launching incendiary bombs.

    Motorcycle gangs in Australia build copies of the MAC-10 submachine gun in their garages.

    Without the need of a 3D printer or downloading files off the internet.

    But count on the government to come up with solutions that solve nothing but cause more problems, similar to answering the 1950s juvenile delinquency problem by driving "Tales From The Crypt" off the newstands with the "seduction of the innocents by comic books" moral panick.

  • ThomasD||

    Yep, with the proper knowledge you can make anything starting from enough bar stock and a draw file.

    Might take a while though.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    So, since equivalent methods to deliver better results are already widely available, please explain why you care about the availability (or not) of 3D printed guns. See if you can answer in purely technical terms. If not, I suggest maybe there are other factors in play. What are those other factors in your case?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Given the existence of equivalent methods to deliver better results, explain why you care about it.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    First, I don't agree that 3D printing isn't, at least potentially, a far more prolific source of homemade arms than conventional machining. So there is that.

    Another factor, for me, is insurrectionist politics. Whether or not we ever get an insurrection, I don't want guns to become an accustomed feature around political venues, such as demonstrations.

    Judging from comments made here, there are folks who think political intimidation with guns is the way politics ought to be practiced. I don't. I think the Constitution entitles me to a right to peaceably assemble. I don't think I get that right if it has to be exercised in defiance of angry, armed political opponents. Even if I am not intimidated, many people with whom I share political views will be. Guns at demonstrations, whether or not they actually get used violently, will too much burden the right of assembly. History offers examples to show the baleful effects of letting that happen.

    But circumventing state laws which could, among other things, vindicate that right of peaceable assembly, is one of the avowed aims of insurrectionist gun advocates—and especially of those now backing 3D printed guns. They tout that circumvention as the principal benefit of the technology. You may agree with their politics, but you have to be heedless to approve what they say they want to do politically with guns.

  • CE||

    None of it makes any sense. There's no new threat. If a bad guy wants to acquire a firearm without a background check, he visits Jimmy behind the liquor store and gives him 300 bucks in cash. He doesn't download a file and mail order a milling machine and make his own.

    And if left-wingers don't buy the right-wingers' paranoia that guns are needed as a last ditch defense against government oppression, why the hysteria over Trump being a proto-Hitler/Mussolini threat to freedom? What if a future elected president really is a right wing radical hate monger? Wouldn't they want the people to be able to arm themselves to resist?

    And if the 2nd Amendment only defends a militia right to be armed, who do they think the militia would be if the Russians or the Chinese or space aliens invaded and occupied the USA? Wouldn't they want it to be everyone?

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    CE, the people I'm concerned about seem all about getting in line behind Trump—regardless of whether he is, "a proto-Hitler/Mussolini threat to freedom." I can't in the slightest imagine them as armed patriots opposing a would-be dictator. I can readily imagine many of them opposing the next legitimately elected black President, though. Which is why my concerns about 3D printed guns have zero to do with technological fear, and everything to do with straws in the political wind.

    You can't read the bristling anger from the politics-of-resentment types on this blog, without at lease pausing over the many explicit calls for insurrectionist politics. Leave actual insurrection aside. I don't want America's politics conducted under constant threats—implicit and explicit—by an armed minority claiming it is ready to take up, "2nd Amendment solutions." I note that comments in favor of 3D printed guns come liberally from that segment, and note their own advocacy touts the advantages of that technology for promoting insurrectionist politics, and especially for escaping state gun regulations.

    I have written before that the Constitutional right to "peaceable" assembly ought to be construed as a bar on guns and body armor at political demonstrations. State gun controls are a legitimate method for implementing that safeguard of peaceful politics. A technology valued for its ability to bypass those controls is one I oppose, for political reasons, not for technical reasons.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Because people with guns ("those people") shouldn't be allowed to assemble, right?

  • Fk_Censorship||

    Exactly. They are the ones who went crazy and attacked speakers at universities when Obama was elected, and created paramilitary groups with retarded names. Didn't they? Didn't they?

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    I'm fine with gun shows.

    Political venues, and especially other people's political venues, not so much. History suggests that when armed intimidation becomes commonplace in rank and file politics, minority rule, despotism, and catastrophe come next.

    I don't understand the reference to "those people." Is it just there to add something you could attribute, and then rely upon to impute bad faith to me?

  • BigChiefWahoo||

    It's all about control, isn't it Stephen Lathrop? Guns are a threat to the Administrative class, aren't they, and the information about how to manufacture them is a threat, too, right? Can't have information getting into the "wrong" hands, can we? Gotta restrict the information available to the unwashed masses, isn't that what you really mean, Stephen? Gotta preserve the Established Order, right? Why don't you just come out and say so honestly?

  • ThomasD||

    The frightening part is that Lathrop doesn't even know what a useful idiot is. Much less than he is one.

  • Happy Chandler||

  • Jerryskids||

    I've seen these guns, they're fairly bulky considering they're a single-shot pistol. When everybody tries downloading these things all at once, it'll clog up the intertubes. And what happens when one of these guns gets sent to the wrong e-mail address and it's some little kid who gets a hold of it? Besides, I say if we can save a million sea monkeys by banning plastic straws, surely banning plastic guns has to be the environmentally smart thing to do.

  • DrZ||

    Perhaps we can slurp our Cokes with printed guns after they take away all the straws?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    *searches for relevant quote from Philly's mayor...

  • John B. Egan||

    Remember when it was reported that solar panels would never become a viable source of electricity? Recall when everyone laughed at the thought of a completely electric car? How about when nobody understood the point of a personal computer? ... I lived through all three of those..

    ** The fact that a printed gun is not the weapon of choice today and is a source of derision to some doesn't mean it won't be a viable weapon later.

    ** The fact that criminals can get real weapons elsewhere doesn't mean that this is not a viable weapon for those who don't have access to back street purchases.

    ** It's plastic... It doesn't set off metal detectors. Do you really think it's OK to say take one into a court room?

    I could go on, but stuffy, tedious thinking is not how you approach this issue.

  • ThomasD||

    By the time easily printed plastic guns actually become a thing the rest of us will already have phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range.

    So, I wouldn't fret.

  • turco||

    It's not technophobia. It is gun phobia.

    The gun-control crowd's ultimate aim is banning and confiscating all guns , like Australia did. Because that is the only gun-control measure that really makes any sense. A strong argument against that is the *impossibility* of confiscating all guns. 3-D printing strengthens that argument against mass confiscation.

  • Rockabilly||

    From looking some prog sites some think you get a special printer and put the gun file in it and it prints out a gun.

  • Whorton||

    Another significant point made on Fox was that why would someone go to all the trouble to get a 3D plastic printer, and make a gun will blow up in their hands when fired? It is so much easier to tell your local meth addict that you need a gun and will pay cash money. You will have one before the sun sets. File off the Serial number or not, who cares if its stolen?

    The press has engineered a piss poor solution to a non existent problem.

  • fgsll||

    There seems to be a slight problem with this plastic gun hysteria. People who want desperately to ban plastic guns forget ONE thing -- that is if you ever knew it. What makes the bullet fly out the barrel? Pressure. The gunpowder (or whatever is being used) in the cartridge explodes and expands. When it does this, the pressure of the expanding gas becomes greater than the air pressure in front of the bullet. This expansion forces the bullet down the barrel.

    What does plastic not take well to? Pressure. So what happens when the cartridge is fired? The gunpowder explodes and so does the receiver. The bullet never leaves the barrel.

    Besides, as Whorton says, it is simpler to buy a gun on the street.

  • Mcgoo95||

    Also, you may be able to get a plastic gun (or some parts of it) through a metal detector, but you will never get a bullet through one.... unless you also 3d print a useless plastic bullet . Also highly unlikely to get a metal barrel with any sort of accuracy through one.

  • Mcgoo95||

    On the other hand, I'm pretty sure there are already some ridiculous regulations on buying certain high-end CNC machines over concerns about fabricating weapons. Not sure where I saw this but I'm pretty sure these exist already....

  • ThomasD||

    The only restrictions that I am aware of involve devices capable of operating at the sorts of tolerances needed for manufacturing reflectors and other parts for nuclear weapons. Not because you can make any sort of traditional firearm with them.

    I can understand that not everyone is super mechanically savvy, but this is like basic numeracy.

    The most complex rifles and handguns aren't much more complex to make than a lawn mower motor.

  • ThomasD||

    If you wanted a projectile that would not set off a metal detector barium, in some sort of epoxy, would make a decent bullet. It Would still show up on x-ray though. Your next option would be a projectile made of solid iodine.

    The fear mongers want you to believe that disaster is just around the nect technological corner. But, the thing is, this stuff is really nothing new - it's all been tried before, and while many things are theoretically possible, practically speaking they are neither easy, nor reliably effective. Occasionally they are dangerous to the user, mostly they are worthless.

  • JrJr||

    They've already shut the site down..."....by order from a federal judge in the Western District of Washington".
    Fuck it...I wanted to check out the files.

  • JrJr||

    They've already shut the site down..."....by order from a federal judge in the Western District of Washington".
    Fuck it...I wanted to check out the files.

  • Schiziodman21||

    Has no one ever heard of Zip guns?

    I have a friend who built a 3D printer before they were available at retail. That's the easy part. The hard part is software and design.

  • HP Printer Support||

    I've also seen these three guns, They look like original one. 3D Printers are quite awesome, It makes things look like originals. And used everywhere.

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