You’ve probably already heard about Cody Wilson and his functional 3D-printed gun. I was feeling a bit murky on this issue and couldn’t quite pinpoint why until reading Farhad Manjoo’s piece in Slate. Manjoo argues that even if the wikiweapon were printable on a personal 3D printer (Wilson’s gun must still be made on a professional one), printed weapons would still be a minor fraction of the firearms industry. Manjoo writes:
In 2012 alone, gun makers created 6 million new guns, with sales estimated at close to $12 billion. With so many cheap guns available, 3-D guns don’t warrant much attention. Sure, 3-D printers will get cheaper and better, but they aren’t anywhere near as cheap nor as widely available as manufactured guns, and they won’t be for many years. Until then, there are plenty of non-printable firearms to worry about.
Comparing US gun makers to the pre-napster record labels of yore, Manjoo then points out that limiting the sale and manufacture of 3D printed weapons is actually in the interest of one of the most powerful political lobbies in the country. Hollywood is figuring out ways to curb our illegal downloading of movies. It isn’t unthinkable that gun makers would want to undermine the creation of 3D printed weapons before they could cause a similar disruption.
And that gets to the 3-D gun movement’s fundamental error—their belief that information can’t be controlled, and that its mere existence will somehow force gun control advocates to rethink their approach. That simply isn’t true. Though the Internet has made all kinds of information more widely accessible, governments have proven adept at curbing all kinds of data they want to keep under wraps.
But here was the paragraph that really resonated with me:
Finally, I wonder why Cody Wilson needs a 3-D gun to prove that we live in a world where information is tantamount to weaponry. We all know that we already live in such a world. Last week, before you could download plans for a workable 3-D–printed gun, you could find plans for all kinds of other weapons online—bombs, poisons, bioweapons, and many other horrors. We’ve just seem a terrible demonstration of this fact: Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are alleged to have created the pressure-cooker bombs they used to attack the Boston Marathon by using off-the-shelf parts and plans published by Inspire, an al-Qaida–affiliated online magazine.
I don’t think I know anyone who’s taken advantage of available bomb-making resources to make a bomb. I could see a few hundred enthusiasts printing off Wilson’s gun as a novelty or toy but I think that the majority of Americans (arguably) would rather not make/own this object and they would rather not live in a country where anyone might be armed at any moment. That’s the question we’re trying to figure out, though, right? What is the social contract trade-off for living in this society? It might be “live knowing that anyone could be carrying a loaded gun” or it could be “live without carrying a loaded gun” — depending on how the gun control conversation evolves.
Take a look at Manjoo’s full article here.