Given the recent tragedy in Colorado, there have been renewed calls for more restrictive gun laws in the United States. However, as we have seen in the past, greater regulation (prohibition) does not always create positive changes for a society. Many politicians and individuals have even been calling for a ban on “military style” weapons and firearms with “high capacity” magazines. Regardless of the ideological motivations or the legality of such measures, this is about to become impossible due to technological advances.

3D printing, a rapidly developing technology, allows for the printing of three dimensional objects. A 3D printer works much like a standard ink jet you would find on your desk at home. There is a nozzle that shoots out material (plastic, metal, or ceramics) except that the material is printed in three dimensions. If you have access to a 3D printer you can make almost any object so long as you have the computer-aided design files. Watch this video below for an example.


In fact, you can even print a fully functioning firearm right in your living room; except the highest stress parts like the barrel which can still be printed in an industrial setting.  While all of this might seem fantastical the most amazing part is that a 3D printer only costs about $500 for a medium sized one.

While a 3D printer can print a functioning wrench it can also print the receiver for an AR-15 or AK-47  (which are both technically firearms according to US law) which is exactly what Thingverse user HaveBlue did. HaveBlue printed his receiver and successfully fired 200 rounds through it. HaveBlue also uploaded the design files to Thingverse so that other users can print their own receivers in the comfort of their own homes. HaveBlue is not the only user with firearms parts design files available for free online, and there are literally hundreds of other files available on many different sites. So does this mean “military style” firearms laws need to be more strictly regulated, in short no.

If firearms can be easily made in your living room how can they be effectively legislated against? Given that 3D printing is a rapidly advancing technology it is only a matter of time before the average person can print high stress metal parts in the comfort of their own home. While a law-abiding citizen would not print an illegal firearm at home, what would stop a criminal? Unless 3D printers, which have nearly infinite uses, are banned there is no way to stop people from printing “guns” at home. So this brings us back to the question of prohibition, and how legislate against something that an average citizen can grow/brew/print in their own home. A holistic approach needs to be taken to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill individuals. Simple “banning” will do nothing to prevent another mass shooting in the United States.

Image Courtesy of HaveBlue via Thingverse

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