If you think the gun debate in the United States is heated now, technological advances are about to make it a whole lot more intense. Last week, Forbes highlighted a project called Wiki Weapon that wants to prototype the world's first fully printable gun.
In the same way that the Internet democratized publishing and the flow of information, Second Amendment advocates want to make acquiring arms as easy as downloading a file and hitting Print. Defense Distributed, the group behind Wiki Weapon, aims to raise $20,000 to buy a Stratasys 3D printer and further develop the concept. The initiative, unsurprisingly, has raised a few eyebrows.
The project may or may not reach its goal, but the idea of a fully 3D-printable gun now seems inevitable. Last year, 3D CAD models of a lower receiver for a semiautomatic rifle sparked controversy when they popped up online. Then a gun enthusiast tried - and succeeded - to use one to fire 200 rounds of ammunition.
When Tech Evolves Faster Than Society Can Keep Up
Wiki Weapon is just the latest - and most dramatic - example of how technology can evolve more rapidly than do our laws and societal norms. Just as the Internet and file-sharing platforms turned copyright on its head before any of the world's legislatures and media companies knew what hit them, the already complex and tense debate over gun control may be about to take on an entirely new shape. And just as in the copyright wars, controlling the distribution of digital files is a lot more challenging than clamping down on the sale and distribution of physical goods, whether they're a bootleg DVD or a semiautomatic rifle.
Second Amendment advocates are, as always, ready for rhetorical battle. On its website, Defense Distributed draws from American history to support the notion that building firearms at home is not only legal, but is a long-standing tradition in the U.S. It confesses quite openly that Wiki Weapon "is about challenging gun control and regulation."
The legality issue isn't clear cut. It is lawful to build a firearm for personal use in the U.S., but making one out of plastic may violate a 1988 law designed to prevent people from sneaking such guns through airport security, as Wired points out.
The 3D printing revolution has been slowly unfolding for about a decade, but it's only in the last few years that it's begun to creep into mainstream awareness. It's known chiefly for common use cases like rapid prototyping and architectural modeling. But the technology is still very young. For years, there's been talk of 3D-printing everything from houses to human tissue, and those realities are inching closer. Soon enough, the list of things we'll be able to print out will grow even more mind-blowing. In the meantime, we already have plenty of complex issues with which to grapple.
Photo by John McStravick.