Yesterday, while reading my usual dosage of technology news, I came across an article about the Wiki Weapon Project, a group of people seeking to raise $20,000 to design and release blueprints for an entirely plastic gun that be created with a 3D printer. This gun is promised to be lethal and should evade conventional x-ray security measures.
This wouldn’t be the first use of 3D printing technology for this application, either. There are already online designs for a printable lower receiver and magazine for an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, which is the “civilian” version of the M-16s we used when I was in the Air Force. Anyone who has taken high school shop classes could print and assemble the full weapon in a few hours with a few extra metal parts. The cat, as they say, is already out of the bag, and let me be perfectly clear when I say that there are very few mechanical differences between a military grade M-16 fully automatic assault rifle and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle which is legal for civilian use. The AR-15 is almost the exact same weapon with a few sublet changes to make it not fully automatic. Some gun enthusiasts do AR-15 to M-16 conversions all the time. I just found a manual on how to do so on the internet in about 5 minutes. The M-16/AR-15 was a very dangerous but difficult to obtain weapon before these plans were uploaded. However, with the ability of anyone with access to a commercial available sub-$1000 3D printer and a grudge, anyone can now make one, and this becomes a very serious problem for society. This takes gun control and intellectual property law to an entirely new level.
Aside from the obvious moral issues, let me first explain the legal and technical issues that this brings to light. First, a primer on 3D printing: 3D printing is a way to create simple or complex physical objects with exact height, width, and depth specifications from a digital file. I could literally email you a plastic cup or a paperclip file that you could run through your machine and it would exist when previously it did not before. Souless plastic goes in to the back of the machine, and out comes a working paperclip or a machine gun for you to do with whatever you please. Conumdrum: Lets suppose that I download the M-16/AR-15 file and drop the file onto a thumb drive. I then slip that thumb drive into your bags before you board an international flight. The police are notified and you are searched. Is there any difference between carrying this digital file and attempting to smuggle an assault rifle into a foreign nation? The RIAA (Which is the Recording Industry Association of America) regularly argues that downloading a song from a pirate site is in fact stealing and they stop at nothing to prosecute those that they suspect are in violation of this. Is this not the same thing? When is a file just a file, and what makes a weapon a weapon? What makes a song a song? The laws surrounding digital/physical media are non-existent and our government needs to step up now to rectify this.
It is absolutely shameful that the Wiki Weapon Project is something that our society will accept simply because it is unaware of it or because it is now technologically possible to do so. Countless lives have been taken and damaged because of legal regulated firearms, and suddenly children are empowered with the ability to make a working lethal gun in their bedrooms. Yesterday the world was one way, and today it is another. Our leaders in government can’t seem to grasp basic human reproduction principles(Yeah, I went there), so I have absolutely no faith that they will be able to understand the extreme imminent danger that this project represents before it is too late. The truth is that even if this project is shut down, someone else will decide that this is the contribution they wish to make to the world and duplicate these dangerous efforts. The only solution to this is immediate legislation outlawing and banning the intentional creation, distribution and possession of printable weapon files.
My argument may not be the popular one, but I believe it is the right one for our society. There has to come a point where enough is enough.