A multi-dimensional problem
The question, if even just asked in the year 1999, would sound like a cheesy sci-fi plot point in an antiquated novel where the “distant future” takes place in the year 2000. “Should you be allowed to print a fully functional firearm using blueprints readily available on the Internet?”
While it might have been science fiction in the not-so-distant past, in the technologically booming 21st century, this question is one that lawmakers are now struggling to grapple with, as a five-year-old court showdown has been resolved that will allow, as of this Wednesday, blueprints for 3D-printed guns to be posted online and therefore available to anybody with an internet connection.
The advent of 3D printing is a technological advancement that carries with it many applications – more than a few of them being positive. It is possible through 3D printing to design, cheaply (though the cost of the actual printers remain high), everything from tricky little parts for your car that may break to artificial heart valves and even entire houses; though the latter two have yet to break into the mainstream just yet.
On a local level, 3D printers are becoming more commonplace in youth centers and libraries to get kids and adults alike excited about a futuristic piece of tech that will only see increasing applications in the advancing years. The possibilities are really quite astounding.
As with any new technology, however, there is also the potential for legal complications and even threats to societal safety. In the past, residents in states with tighter gun control laws (such as Rhode Island) could only obtain a gun after obtaining a firearms license, attending a safety course and undergoing a background check and mandatory waiting period.
With 3D printing however, if you have access to a 3D printer and have the financial means to acquire the plastic printing material, there is theoretically no stopping you from printing your own arsenal of guns that are untraceable, undetectable by metal detectors and easily distributable to those who would otherwise be unable to acquire a firearm through legal means.
Already, 20 attorney generals from across the nation have sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decrying the Department of State’s decision to allow the dissemination of the blueprints online. President Donald Trump has Tweeted (of course) that he is “looking into” the issue and that it “doesn’t seem to make much sense.” However, it has long been established that nothing can be taken at face value with this administration, so we will have to wait and see what, if any, action is actually taken.
While there may be those out there, including the private company “Defense Distributed,” who would argue that the justification for this practice lies purely within the rights afforded by both the First and Second Amendment, it would be disingenuous to ignore the possible pitfalls in letting such actions fly above the radar without repercussions.
Yes, of course, criminals may always obtain a gun illicitly – just as they always have. They can scrape off serial numbers to make them untraceable, as we’ve seen with guns used by biker gang members recently arrested. Criminals will find ways to break the law in order to carry out their agendas. However, opening up yet another avenue for criminals to easily obtain guns seems to have very little purpose.
The argument is already being made that law-abiding citizens should be able to print a gun for their own Second Amendment usage if they want to do so. While this may be true, ignoring the obvious potential for abuse of the availability of easily manufactured, untraceable firearms is irresponsible and selfish. There is no reason why blueprints for 3D-printed guns cannot be obtained similarly to how any other firearm is obtained legally – through a process that involves vetting and oversight to prevent the blueprints from falling into dangerous hands.
Yes, this is the age of information. Blueprints will inevitably make their way onto the black market, and criminals will have access. However, our country is predicated on the belief that laws not only prevent crimes from happening, they also remove the people who break those laws from our society. That argument is akin to wondering why we have laws against drunk driving, despite people getting arrested for driving while intoxicated every day. Simply because people break the law is not a valid argument against laws.
The 3D-printed gun is poised to only amplify the divisive arguments between gun lovers and gun control advocates. Now that, in theory, anybody can create a potentially deadly firearm without any oversight at the push of a button, is there any common ground for compromise in the name of safety? Or are we entering a future that not even science fiction writers of yesterday could have imagined?