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Thoughts on 3D Printing and Guns

Navigate the complex intersection of 3D printing and firearms, offering a thoughtful analysis of the implications, challenges, and ethical considerations in this controversial arena
Thoughts on 3D Printing and Guns

A few quick thoughts on 3D Printed (3DP) guns, now that Defense Distributed is on the precipice of being able to distribute gun designs on their site, although as of August 1, 2018, they were halted from distribution by a temporary restraining order from a federal judge.

  • These files have been available for at least a few years and despite their availability, very few users have actually been able to successfully print and shoot a 3DP gun. To be specific, these files allow users to print the receivers for guns, not a ready-to-fire weapon. They still require further resources to be used as weapons. Here is a great explanation of what those files actually enable.
  • The machines needed to print these gun designs are prohibitively expensive, thus it's still much cheaper to purchase an actual gun at a pawn shop or some other reseller. For reference, one manufacturer of machines that can handle these files, MarkForged, has a starting price point of $3500+.
  • Lower grade materials on cheaper machines (PLA) don't have the strength needed for repeated firing (or firing at all), and so the average person would be more likely to blow off their hand than wound a target.
  • To print a 3DP gun still requires a level of technical expertise (because there is no way service bureaus are going to start printing them). A user would need to download the gun file, prepare it for printing for a specific machine (G-codes, the end file of 3d printing, are not machine agnostic), properly slice the file with the right material settings, print it successfully (which would take hours even on today's million-dollar machines), clean it, and then assemble with gunpowder, firing pins and ammo. Even if a user was able to skip the first few steps and just download a pre-tested G-code for a specific machine ready to print, they would be stuck with certain materials, machines, and parameters as G-codes are not universal keys across printers.
  • 3DP companies, like 3DPrinterOS, are uniquely positioned to help concerned schools, enterprises and original equipment manufacturers (OEM's) in preventing (or managing) the output of prints over their network. Prints can be queued up for approval prior to printing thus allowing platform administrators to review and catch dangerous files of all types before they ever make it to machines.

Overall, 3D printing has many advantages over traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques but there is no way the manufacturing of guns is one of them. You can legislate and delete the files all you want but at the end of the day, these gun files have already been circulated on the internet and will continue to circulate faster than a legislative body or centralized security operation could possibly monitor.There are high hopes that 3DP companies will continue to innovate and roll out the appropriate safeguards needed to mitigate any potential negative outcomes.This article by 3DPrinterOS co-founder, Aaron Roy, originally appeared on LinkedIn.  You can check out more from Aaron in this free online course on 3D printing via the University of Illinois.  

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