3D: Digital, Distributable, Deadly?

9376356295_b8bca9fe49_o3D has become all the rage it seems, from Nintendo’s 3DS to the plethora of 3D TV’s on sale at any local retailer. It only stands to reason that 3D printers would soon dive into the market at a more affordable price, but unlike the former technologies (3DS and 3D TVs), these printers require expensive and complicated design materials and software (CAD to name one) that not all users can operate easily.

According to a Yahoo article by Rich Brown, “You don’t bring a 3D printer to a gun fight—yet,” one group, Digital Defense, hopes to bring down that digital barrier by creating design files which would then be freely distributed through its project website. The chosen file? A printable gun.

When first reading this and watching this video, it seemed that maybe a gun wasn’t the best option. I agree that guns should be made available but only to those that are adequately trained and mentally prepared to own and use a firearm. While the materials and knowhow to create your own gun have been lingering around the Internet, homemade guns haven’t made an increased appearance. I would attribute this to the fact that there is some actual mechanical, physical effort required to create a “garage gun” whereas with the simple click of a button you could have your own personal glock materialize before you thanks to a 3D printer and CAD technology.

In this digital age, those that would be interested in a homemade gun go straight to the Internet, not the hardware store. We are a generation of point and clickers and with 3D printers doing all the hard work, we can sit back, relax and let technology defend us.

But not everyone feels that a printed gun could work. Even though Michael “HaveBlue” Guslick of the blog HaveBlue successfully test-fired a homemade gun (its lower-receiver was created by a Stratasys FDM 1600 3D printer), he does not believe that an actual working gun could be printable. At least not yet.

From the Yahoo article, Guslick states that not even the strongest thermoplastic (what 3D printers use to create the desired object) is available that has the required strength to withstand the amount of pressure required to fire a gun. The gun would make a noise, but it would not be able to work properly.

But DefenseDistributed spokesperson Cody Wilson, a University of Texas student according to the Yahoo article by Rich Brown, still wants to give it a try, only this time with ABSplus material (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), which is  a common thermoplastic for you chemistry buffs out there.

While most news outlets have focused on the implications of these particular design files, the project’s true goal is lost in the smoke. The project is not so much about physical defense through gun ownership but rather about defense against manufacturer monopolies.

While I applaud this effort and am already thinking of the things I wouldn’t mind printing in 3D (there are some interesting jewelry pieces out there) having a gun as the first option takes away from the project’s true mission. The project is first and foremost about freeing the public from relying on certain companies for products. It is placing the complicated design materials into the hands of those who could not create the documents on their own and giving them a sense of digital freedom.

However, the choice of a gun as the first freely distributed file directs the ire and fire of the government toward this project not for the reasons it should. Defense Distributed is furthering the open source movement but it doesn’t need to be with a bang.

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