3D additive manufacturing works like this. A computer aided design (CAD) file is created that is sent to a 3D printer which builds the object in the CAD file. By starting at the base and applying a series of layers until the 3D printed item is created. This can be any item from a statute to a working individual component of a mechanical device such as a fully automatic weapon. The question now is how the ability to manufacture 3D printed firearms will affect the gun control debate?
Cody Wilson is the leader in designing and 3D printing firearms from his Austin, Texas based company Defense Distributed. From a warehouse with a 3D printer on site, Cody is able to 3D print the components of a semi-automatic assault rifle. Ironically, Cody is required to have a federal firearms license to manufacture the firearm components. He must have the equipment used to manufacture the firearm components within the listed location on the federal firearms license. The issue is that anyone having the 3D printer can create the same weapon. Cody intends to produce and mass publish the plans to a fully working semi-automatic weapon. The implications of this are terrifying.
The 3d Printer
The Objet Connex printer is the hardware used to create the 3D printed firearm components. The printer can produce multiple prototype printing from a simple computer design file. Various printer designs allow the printing of virtually limitless objects. The printer is capable of using various substances as the basis of its models. Similar 3D printers have been used to create 3D models, engineering components and even 3d printed human organs with a cellular based solution as the printing solution. The potential for this amazing technology to benefit is boundless. But could it also become a tool for terrorism?
The Technology Dilemma
So the question we must ask ourselves now is how should we proceed when we invent technology with potential to cause as much harm to mankind as it could benefit? Any laws we have on regulating and controlling who can obtain firearms becomes redundant with the advent of 3D printable firearms. At the moment, the 3D printable firearm has some serious flaws. It frequently malfunctions after only a few fired rounds. But it only takes a few rounds to injure or kill someone. The 3D printer could potentially become a tool for terrorism in the hands of those willing to cause mayhem.