Is it true? Can you really 3D print a gun? This is probably one of the recurring questions from people to those in the 3D print business. Try as they might to avoid this political and controversial query, it is necessary to address this elephant in the room. Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard take it on and answer this question in this Ask Us Anything episode. They tap into the many concerns and implications of 3D printing a gun and offer some helpful words of advice to think about before even considering taking on this path.
Listen to the podcast here:
Is It True? Can You 3D Print A Gun?
This is the Ask Us Anything segment. We’ve got a tough one, don’t we?
Yes. We’ve avoided this question. We get it frequently in person when you’re talking to somebody new. The question is, “Is it true? Can you 3D print a gun?” I personally have avoided this question because it’s controversial and political. It paints 3D printing in a negative light. It’s time to talk about it.
We can’t avoid the elephant in the room with everything going on in the country with all these mass shootings and things, which have not involved 3D printing in any way as far as we know.
Let’s be clear on that. In San Bernardino and we had the anniversary of Newtown. I have a personal connection in Newtown. I was born in Danbury, Connecticut, which is the next town over. My aunt, who tunes in to this show regularly, is an administrator in Newtown High School. All of my cousins have gone through the schools there and they knew the shooters. Thinking about those children and those 26 tolls, it breaks my heart every year when I look at the beautiful frame that she gave me with a picture of what is such a beautiful little town. I think about that. Do I want to take a side? Do I want to talk about it that way? No. I don’t want to talk about guns like that. Not talking about 3D printings’ relationship to guns is dangerous for everyone on both sides of the argument. That’s why we need to talk about it now.
Let’s do it.
Yes, it’s true. You can 3D print a gun. It’s been proven. If you watched Print the Legend, it’s on Netflix, it’s a documentary.
There’s a little reference to it on Print the Legend. There have also been some other documentaries posted online about Cody Wilson, who’s been the poster child for 3D printing a gun.
It’s called Defense Distributed.
He’s an advocate for the right to 3D print a gun. He’s backed by the NRA.
We’re not endorsing any of that on this.
The reality is he proved that he was the first person that got a lot of attention for it and proved it can be done. We talk about 3D printing all the time. One of the problems with 3D printing growing to a wider market of people is them not having 3D clipart for things to print. In 3D printers, you can print anything. A lot of people, if you give them something that allows them to print anything, they get paralyzed with, “What should I do?” They don’t know what to do. 3D printers, if you have the ability and CAD capability to create a 3D printed gun, you can print it. There’s nothing to stop you from doing it.
I don’t think it’s a good idea.
Not at all. The government though is clamped down in ways that are being challenged in court.There is no digital border in reality. Click To Tweet
It’s been more than the government in Cody Wilsons’ case. Originally, my understanding is the government clamped down. He was selling the digital schematics.
He was selling the file that anybody could 3D print.
It was even on Thingiverse or one of those early sites. I’m not sure which one, but it was like that.
I don’t know if it was there, but it was available.
Obviously, the site shut it down and the government petitioned to have it shut down but then the files were out there.
Once you let that get out of the bag, it’s hard. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere in other countries.
That’s always an issue. The other problem with it was that it was starting to be skirting the issue and not making a whole gun, just making an extended magazine which is illegal in many states.
Some, I don’t think it is.
In some states, it is.
One of the ways 3D printing has been used is to create a magazine or a clip, some people call it that. It holds more bullets than the state regulations will allow gun stores to sell. They won’t sell a clip of high capacity.
Saying that that was perfectly fine, that got shut down. Cody Wilson did something interesting and creative, I use that term loosely, but creative circumvention of the rules by selling a printer.
A 3D printer like a kit.
A 3D printer filament and design files all in one kit.
That wasn’t being distributed over the internet itself. He was trying to get around that.
He physically had to ship that printer to places. When he would ship the printer, it would go via FedEx. When they found out about it, they shut it down.
They refuse to deliver his 3D printer because they knew what was in it. They didn’t want to be associated with that.
There’s been a lot of those things happening. The scary tie-in for me is that when we talked to Maria Speth, she was talking about the fact that the Federal Trade Commission is not regulating the 3D print files as articles. They’re refusing to consider them articles. If you refuse to consider that the design file itself is an article, then how can you regulate international and national border penetration of these nefarious design files? On top of that, if you look at that, the regulation of these design files from an article standpoint becomes difficult. The agency regarding gun control in this country and the tobacco and firearms ETF regulation, they feel that they have greater leeway because they have shut down the transfer of files. You’re looking at it from a standpoint of we’re just talking about the safety of design files. Are these things going to be sound or break apart?
We were talking about in an upcoming podcast in reference to children’s toys that are 3D printed and thinks like that.
That’s scary. Not only do you have the skill of the designer, which in this case is it a good design, or is it someone who’s a hobbyist or a gun enthusiast who thinks that they can design and engineer this? You don’t know because you don’t have any background on them. How much of their background are they going to reveal? The files might be coming from outside of the country or other places where you have no background on any of these people as well. How good are these design files? How safe are they?
There are all the variables that are about how you print it in all those settings. There’s no one to regulate or ensure that these things get printed with no infill maybe so it’s solid plastic. If you make that thing open on the inside to save material, then you create a dangerous situation.
There’s a lot of danger in it involved. One of the reasons we want to bring it up here is because if you’re thinking that that’s what you’re going to do with your 3D printer, you ought to think twice. This is not a safe thing to be using a 3D printer for at this stage. The materials aren’t sound enough. The quality design files aren’t good enough. It’s dangerous.
The reality is there are still as good as many of these machines are for the majority of things that people print. There are still inconsistencies print to print that can produce defects in an object. When you’re talking about explosive materials inside of that, it’s scary.
I don’t want to see any families, children, or anyone get hurt from a 3D printed item of any kind. Using it this way is dangerous. On that side, there’s that. There’s the side that are we going to be able to regulate that terrorist use of files when we can’t regulate them on social media? These files are going to come across. I keep picturing that picture of the San Bernardino garage where they had all their guns in there, the pipe bombs, and all that stuff. I keep picturing in my mind that we’re going to see, at some point, a 3D printer in there. That scares me. We’re learning a lot as a country from tracking what’s going on and the motions that people have taken, terrorists have taken in, and the things that they do. Now you’re talking about something completely self-sufficient and self-enclosed and completely unwatched at this point.
It is. It still takes a lot of skill to be able to 3D print something that intricate and complex well. They might have an easier time making materials to do evil out of conventional materials and using other tools available to them at their local Home Depot or Lowe’s and bringing it into their garage. The 3D printers are unique in the things you can make, but it’s also not the easiest tool in the world to use if you’re a would-be terrorist.
Going as far as 3D printing in metal or any of those high-end things, you’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars in machines. That’s not going to happen that easily. There’s a bigger barrier entry to that.
There’s an easier way for them to make what they want to make than to do that.It's those of us who don't pay attention that contributes to the problems that are going on unintentionally. Click To Tweet
Get it on the black market.
To me, the biggest problem with these existing 3D printed gun files that are out there were distributed at one point. Even though the government has shut it down and you can’t get them on US websites for sure, as we’ve talked about before, there is no digital border in reality. People in other countries may be free to distribute them.
Obviously, we’re free here in our country of seeing we have more guns per capita than a lot of other countries.
We have almost as many guns in this country as we do people without 3D printing.
We’re not here for a shortage of guns. Anyway, it’s something that we need to pay attention to. When people keep asking us, “Is it true that you can 3D print a gun?” The answer is, “Yes, it is true.” It’s unfortunately true. Is it a good idea? Is it safe? No. I don’t think it’s a safe way to be distributing guns in any way, shape, or form for anyone.
The reality is 3D printers are wonderful tools that are transforming the manufacturing landscape in this country and across the whole world. There are many good things being done with them. All the prosthetic hands that we see are being made for people that can’t afford it by printing that’s helping the medical industry. Those are some large, high-profile obvious examples. There are lots of wonderful ways 3D printers are being used in education and in STEAM programs in schools and all that. Like anything that people have access to, like the internet itself, it’s such a wonderful tool. Think about it. When we were kids, we had to use an encyclopedia to research things for school.
With the good comes the dark side. We’re about to launch to Star Wars as well.
Education is such a popular subject on our show. There is a lot of interest from teachers and students and lots of school systems who reach out to us who are looking at how to implement 3D printing in their programs.
You can’t have your head in the sand about this.
One of the reasons that I wanted to talk about this subject is that as you’re putting systems in place and allowing students to have access to things to 3D print and places to 3D print them within your school system or even in your home for your young kids, as parents, we have to monitor them. As teachers and administrations, you have to have measures in place to control and make sure these things are going to be used properly. Everybody may not know but my mother is a computer science engineer. We had computers in the early ‘70s in my home. They were the newest computers being made. Some of us had exposure to that before the internet. My mother bought our oldest daughter an iMac when she was four years old, when there were those grape and those tangerine iMacs and everything. We thought, “This is wonderful.” We were too late in clamping down the internet with a proper software. Before we knew it, she googled the word sex and you can imagine all the things that came up that we wish she never would have seen. Shame on us as parents for not being on top of it.
Let’s be clear. It did not happen at four years old. It happened before we realized it.
It didn’t happen at that age. She was 3rd or 4th grade.
I hear it all the time from other parents where they didn’t realize they needed to shut down their Netflix password. They didn’t do a whole bunch of things on their cable and didn’t put the parental controls because they thought their kids couldn’t run the remote. Our kids are far ahead of us. With 3D printing, it’s evolving. They are going to be ahead of you. You have to pay attention. The point is that you have to pay attention because the signals are all there. You have to do this.
You have to be an active participant. You can’t sit on the sidelines like at your soccer game and whatnot and you can see what’s happening on the field. You do need to be involved and set guidelines. We’re great parents and I know most people out there are great parents. Now with our younger children, even though you teach them right from wrong, you teach them core values. They always seem to amaze me that when you haven’t specifically told them that they can’t do something even though they should think, “That’s questionable. Maybe I shouldn’t do that.” They think, “I can do that.” They go ahead and do it and get in trouble and they’ll be like, “You didn’t tell me I specifically couldn’t do it.”
“You didn’t tell me I couldn’t swing from the ceiling fan or flush a belt down the toilet.” Believe me, the kids will do it. We have girls. The other place that we all have to keep watch is the makerspaces, the libraries, and the places where there are these public 3D printers. You don’t know what the part is because it comes off with all this stuff on it and then they take it home and they clean it. You don’t know what that file does. If you don’t know, you should know. If you’re running a makerspace, if you’re doing these things, you need to pay attention to what’s going on in there.
Have policies in place that specifically establish what’s allowed to be made in your makerspace and what’s not allowed to be made. If you don’t have a policy like that, you may need to reconsider that.
We want to bring this out so that you all start a discussion yourselves about this, because you need to think this through in all aspects of your businesses and your recreation use of 3D printing.
We love 3D printers. We’re advocates for 3D printing. By no means are we saying do not 3D print, don’t get involved in it. We’re not saying do not get your children involved. We have our children involved in it. All we’re saying is understand what’s possible and make sure that you’re aware of the situation with your particular 3D printer in your school system. Think about establishing guidelines and monitoring it.
It is true that guns can be 3D printed. Who knows what someone will come up with next? You have to be thinking about that. You have to be paying attention because it’s those of us who don’t pay attention that are contributing to the problems that are going on unintentionally. I don’t want to be an unintentional part of it. We don’t want to make a product that we know a child is going to choke on or something like that. You don’t want to unknowingly be a part of the problem, knowingly is worse. You don’t want to be unknowingly a part of the problem either because it is going to weigh on your conscience.
Hopefully, this hasn’t been too much of a downer. We’re going to get to a more uplifting topic on the next episode. It’s something we needed to talk about and we have avoided it. Thanks for bearing with us while we did that. We hope this was a discussion that was of value to you and helpful in some way, because that’s the spirit in which it’s intended. Thanks for reading.
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