On last Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, enigmatic lead character Don Draper presented a potential slogan for a new product.
“The future is something you haven’t even thought of yet,” he said.
In the case of one new invention, that sentence couldn’t be more accurate. I’m a hardcore news junkie but I didn’t see the 3-D printer coming.
3-D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, is an emerging technology that has the potential to change the entire world. A digital blueprint is entered into the machine which then constructs it layer by layer using plastic.
The technology isn’t even in many American households yet, and it’s impact has already been felt.
It’s being used to make guns.
Not only does 3-D printing have the potential to completely change the way in which products are manufactured, it already represents a paradigm shift in the debate over gun control.
At the center of the controversy over printed guns is a company called Defense Distributed, run by 25-year-old Cody Wilson. Wilson, a law student and self-described “crypto-anarchist,” looks very much like a normal college kid.
But, under his somewhat unassuming appearance, hides a mind that is very much intent on interrupting the status quo and unlike many who attempt this feat, he has already succeeded.
In an interview with Vice Magazine, he admitted that his invention was meant to be “intentionally disruptive.”
Initially, Defense Distributed focused on manufacturing the lower receiver of an AR-15 assault rifle. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the lower receiver is what makes an AR-15 a gun.
In fact, the ATF considers the AR-15 receiver “a gun.” It contains the operating parts of the weapon.
According to the Connecticut State Police, the AR-15 was the gun Adam Lanza used to kill 20 children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
On April 6, Wilson and Defense Distributed released a video on YouTube documenting the first shot fired from what the company calls “the Liberator.”
It is the very first gun produced almost entirely with a 3-D printer. It is a single shot pistol, printed out in 15 component parts.
The only parts of the gun which are not made with a 3-D printer are the firing pin, which is a common household nail, and a bullet.
Almost overnight, the gun control debate had to adjust to the new reality that soon, people will be able to produce firearms in their own home.
Currently, it is perfectly legal for Americans to make these types of guns. Wilson was recently granted a Federal Firearms License by the United States government to produce his products. He can now sell them legally, but instead has chosen to release the blueprints for free on defcad.org.
Blueprints for the AR-15 receiver and the Liberator are available online for free, anyone can download them.
The rest of the parts of an AR-15 can be purchased easily.
Though the design for the receiver has proven to be flawed, Defense Distributed has vowed to work to improve it.
So, it boils down to this — anyone who wants to produce a gun and has a 3-D printer, which can be purchased for around $2,000 on eBay, can now do so.
I’ve devoted several articles to the topic of gun control in the past and I feel as though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how naive I may have sounded now that we have this information.
How do we proceed now that we know there will soon be a day when people can produce their guns at home, legally?
3-D printing is a brand new technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way that just about every physical product is produced. People will be able to manufacture things like silverware, tools and furniture for themselves.
In the future, cars could be produced this way. There is speculation that it could be a game-changer for health care as well — there is hope that scientists will be able to create 3-D bio-printers, which would eventually make organ transplants as they are now obsolete.
Yet, before any of this comes to fruition, the technology is being used to create tools of destruction.
Do we want the activities of 3-D printers monitored to prevent weapons from being produced with them?
Do we want the government watching what we do with our computers?
In the past history of this column, I’ve been pretty resolute in my support for gun control. Now, I’m not so sure.
In light of the invention of the 3-D printed gun, I’m not so sure that any attempt to regulate guns would be succesful.
I didn’t see this future coming. When it comes to guns, it’s now hard to see where we’re going.