Will 3D Printing Make Gun Laws Useless?

It’s pretty tough to enforce a law that regulates something when people can make that thing in their homes.

3D printing is on the cusp of taking the world by storm. The technology is being brought up first for its possibilities, and now for its controversies. First things first: a 3D printer is a device that simply makes objects. Whereas a regular printer might go over a line of text or an image multiple times to make it clearer, a 3D printer’s jets go over the same area repeatedly to slowly create an object out of plastic or polymer from the bottom up. The company Makerbot makes a $2000 version of this machine.

Mostly, people create knickknacks or parts for various applications. Fittingly American, though, people are starting to use the printers to make guns–actual guns. Not all of the weapon can be made with these printers, but most of the parts can. See the story here which  fleshes out the technology, those making the guns, and lawmakers expressing concern over this home recipe.

Along with their products, Makerbot hosts a website for people to share designs. Once alerted to firearm designs, Makerbot took down those blueprints. But this is the Internet Age. Other websites now offer them, people are discussing among themselves how to work them, and we’re in the nascent stages of a manufacturing movement of a million tiny factories–them being people’s basements.

The website I got this picture from, Daily Tech, actually said the gun failed after 6 shots.

This particular application of 3D printing is about the guns, but it isn’t the only way in which this new technology is causing concerns. Not surprisingly, some of the knickknacks mentioned above feature famous images–such as a bust of Yoda from Star Wars:

People are thinking of all kinds of neat things to do: such as creating their own one-of-a-kind Yoda head flower vase.

The problem with this creativity and development? This item, and the design for how to create it (along with countless others on the site), are copyrighted. Thus, anyone’s use of these images is illegal. So there are many folks out there right now who–as you read this–are breaking the law. Some, I’m sure, without even knowing it. They probably think that because it’s only one copy and for themselves, that there’s no harm, but that’s not what the law supports.

The use of 3D printing in this regard represents a huge challenge to intellectual property. It makes us rethink the idea of “owning” an idea, and it definitely makes us rethink the ability to enforce the rules. Maybe creators should be compensated for their ideas; maybe guns shouldn’t be available to everyone. Regardless of our beliefs, new technology means that less is going to determined by law. Because we’ll have less control over how/if we like to try to get people to behave in the ways we wish.

I’ve written in earlier pieces about how technology solves problems law simply tries to regulate. We called that segment “Problem Solved?” This piece’s segment might be called “Problem Started?”–the phenomenon of technology interfering with law.

But while it’s interesting to think about extremes, I’m sure a middle ground such as that which was found for file-sharing and the music industry, will be located on these issues, too.

to new plateaus,


What say you?