The late comedian Myron Cohen told the following joke. Two ladies meet in the business section of a plane and begin talking to each other.
“Excuse me,” one says, “but I couldn’t help but notice your ring. I never saw a diamond like that before. It’s absolutely magnificent.”
“Yeah,” the other replied. “It’s the Klopman Diamond. It really is magnificent, but it comes with a curse.”
That joke comes to mind when thinking about 3-D printing. On the one hand, the technology really is magnificent, with tremendous potential to benefit people. But on the other hand, the technology is already being used in controversial ways. Will it be used for destructive purposes? Will it morph into a curse?
A Layer At A Time
3-D printing is a way of printing or, perhaps more accurately, building an item. Here’s how it works: A user creates a computer-aided-design (CAD) file of an item he or she wants to create, and sends that to a 3-D printer. The printing process uses specialized materials and prints it – one layer at a time. At the end of the process, an exact replica of the item has been made.
The capabilities of 3-D printing are increasing, while the costs of using it are declining. However, even in the current state, it is nothing short of amazing. For example, 3-D printing has saved the aerospace industry billions by making spare parts as soon as they are needed, eliminating delays on the assembly lines, and avoiding the costs of purchasing them from distributors.
Now, everyone has the ability to use 3-D printing
to make lethal metal weapons at any time,
with absolutely no regulation or control
General Motors is using the technology not only because it enables them to design and build parts faster than they would be by using conventional methods, but also because they are less expensive and lighter, making the vehicles in which they will be used more fuel efficient. Engineers at Ford are designing a new vehicle that will be built entirely by 3-D printing.
And 3-D printing is already being used to make a wide variety of items such as smartphone cases, furniture, glass products, fashion accessories, and toys. When the technology is developed further, it may be possible to “print” food and even artificial human organs using a patient’s own cells.
Klopman Strikes Again?
Despite all of its amazing qualities, 3-D printing also has a downside because the technology has advanced to a point where it could be used to create products that are dangerous, illegal, and/or both. The story of Cody Wilson illustrates exactly this situation.
Wilson is an ardent believer in free markets; he’s also a committed gun rights activist. Back in 2013 he founded Defense Distributed, a nonprofit organization that developed and published on its website designs for the Liberator, the world’s first fully 3-D-printed gun. Those designs were easy to download, which meant that anyone could 3-D print them simply by clicking a few buttons on a computer.
As soon as the Obama administration became aware of this it demanded that Defense Distributed remove those designs from its website, explaining that they violated government restrictions.
The company complied with the government’s demands. However, in the two days after the designs for the 3-D printable gun were posted, there were more than 100,000 downloads. Clearly, there was a lot of interest in this.
Ghost Gunner Spooks People
The following year, Wilson was given the title “Ghost Gunner” for creating a new milling machine that enabled anyone to 3-D print an AR-15 rifle out of a block of aluminum. Defense Distributed’s new milling machine marked a major advance because the Liberator is a plastic weapon while the AR-15 is made of metal. Perhaps more important, the user of a 3-D-printed AR-15 can’t be traced because there is no serial number.
According to Zero Hedge, “Defense Distributed offered the Internet a package that can turn an ordinary aluminum block into an AR-15.” Both FedEx and UPS refused to ship the device.
Several weeks ago, Defense Distributed announced new software for its computer-controlled milling machine, this one enabling it to carve out the aluminum frame of an M1911 handgun. According to WIRED, “the latest model of the milling machine can finish a handgun’s frame in about an hour, with minimal human interaction… It is a concealable, untraceable, and entirely unregulated metal handgun.”
Zero Hedge reports that “Defense Distributed has decentralized the entire process of assembling a workable weapon without identification, background check, and serial tracking number… Anyone in America now has the ability to own a handgun thanks to Defense Distributed.”
Wilson said that he will soon release new software that can produce other kinds of lethal handguns, those also completely unregulated.
Making guns is not new. But what Wilson and Defense Distributed are doing that is new is offering everyone the ability to use 3-D printing to make lethal metal weapons at any time, in their homes or offices, with absolutely no regulation or control. And this technology could even be accessed by minors, convicted felons, individuals who are mentally or emotionally unstable, and it is available without any waiting period.
“The ghost gun threat is real and growing,” says California State Senator Kevin De Leon. “Are they being made by gang members? Are they being manufactured to sell to individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms? Technologies that make it possible for the general public to manufacture guns raise serious questions.”
If profits were the main focus in this issue, then it probably could be resolved relatively easily. But money is not the main point in this case. Rather, deeply help beliefs are.
Not everyone focuses a great deal of their time and energy on the subjects of free markets, the Second Amendment, and gun control, but among those who do some are passionate about their opinions and are determined that they be followed by the mainstream. And true believers never compromise on their beliefs.
Years ago, most people who bought a PC did so because it saved a great amount of work and increased productivity tremendously. Unfortunately, some bad guys came along and figured out ways to use PCs to wreak havoc, steal, and extort. When the Internet became popular, ordinary people had the ability to access incredible amounts of information in seconds. Then some bad guys came along and realized it could be used to slander, cheat, and undermine honest businesses and people.
Are there some people out there who are planning to use the tremendous potential of 3-D printing for nefarious and illegal objectives? Readers should answer this question themselves.
Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org