Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Why downloadable 3D Printing guns are causing an online stir

3D printed guns can't be taken lightly and policy makers the world over will have to proactively think of addressing such controversial issues without stifling Internet innovation

Had it not been for a US federal judge's timely intervention of issuing a temporary restraining order on Tuesday, blueprints that provide instructions for making guns using 3D printers would have been publicly available online on defdist.org, which belongs to a non-profit organization called Defense Distributed.

In fact, Cody Wilson—a law student at the University of Texas and founder of Defense Distributed, had spoken about his process for 3D printing guns at SXSW 2013 that was held at Austin, Texas on 11 March 2013 . Five years later, Defense Distributed’s Liberator pistol design is close enough to a resemble a complete printable firearm, but those who download the files will still have to source key parts such as a metal tube for a barrel and a nail for a firing pin.

The downloadable 3D printed gun issue has snowballed with US President Donald J. Trump tweeting on 31 July that "...I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!" National Rifle Association (NRA) is the US' longest-standing civil rights organization. Trump was responding to New York Senator Chuck Schumer's demand to "...pass our bill to stop 3D guns once and for all".

With Wilson hoping that the US government will grant him permission to have his relaunched site—defcad.com—made operational again, the tussle is unlikely to die in a hurry. and the concern over downloading 3D Printing guns will become all the more acute as the prices of 3D printers continue to fall.

Industrial-size 3D printers cost up to half-a-million dollars, while low-end personal-scale 3D printers cost less than $1,000. Further, these 3D-printed firearms are mostly made of plastic that can be easily destroyed by melting after use. Besides, they are untraceable because they do not have serial numbers.

To be fair, Defense Distributed’s files are designed to 3D-print receivers, which implies that the 3D printer will provide a contrapiton that will still need other necessary parts like bolts and barrels before one can fire a bullet from it .

The fact is that new technologies will continue to confound governments and policymakers with their manifold applications, not all of which are essentially society-friendly. However, 3D printed guns can’t be taken lightly and policy makers the world over will have to proactively think of addressing such controversial issues without stifling Internet innovation.

For instance, 3D printing technology has been around for almost three decades and 3D printers now not only make jewellery and toothbrushes, but also football boots, racing-car parts, custom-designed cakes, guns, human organs, houses, plane parts and even more efficient lithium-ion batteries—and now even a 3D-printed gun.

However, 3D printing can be used to save lives too. For instance, the University of Minnesota developed a laser 3D-bioprinted patch to help heal a scarred heart tissue after a heart attack. Closer home, a team of Indian plastic surgeons from the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) in Puducherry restored to its original shape, the deformed skull of a three-year-old girl-—with a bit of help from a 3D printer.

Engineers and designers have been using 3D printers for more than a decade, but mostly to make prototypes quickly and cheap. 3D printers fabricate complex objects by depositing materials, layer by layer. They use an additive process (make objects by systematically depositing a chosen raw material in layers).

The most common household 3D printing process involves a ‘print head’ that works with any material that can be extruded or squirted through a nozzle. Another common type uses a laser beam or glue to selectively fuse powdered plastic, metal or ceramic in layers. A user can select an electronic design blueprint and load the raw materials into the 3D printer. The machine does the rest. In a process that can take several hours to days.

According to 6Wresearch, India's 3D Printer market is projected to record $79 million in revenue by 2021. The report notes that in India’s 3D printers market, 3D printers have been used primarily for medical, architecture, automotive, industrial, aerospace and military and other applications, where automotive application accounts for largest of the revenue and volume share.

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