May you live in interesting times. Photo via the 33rd Square.
I've said for a while that the day 3D printers can crank out firearms is going to be interesting, in the Chinese curse sense of the word. Late last week the New Scientist (among other outlets) has this:
Last week we learned that handcuffs could be unlocked with a 3D printed key; now "HaveBlue", a member of the AR15.com gun enthusiast forum, which is named after a common semi-automatic rifle, claims to have carried out the first successful test-firing of a 3D-printed gun.
HaveBlue did not print an entire gun but only a part called the lower receiver, which serves as a frame for the other components of the gun. This component is the only gun part regulated for sale under US law and as such must carry a serial number - unless it's made by a private individual for their personal use, so HaveBlue is not breaking any laws.
Making gun parts used to be impossible for most people, of course, but computer files for AR-15 components have been available online for some time. HaveBlue claims to have combined a 3D-printed receiver made from hard plastic with parts from an ordinary pistol and successfully fired more than 200 rounds. "To the best of my knowledge, this is the world's first 3D printed firearm to actually be tested, but I have a hard time believing that it really is the first," HaveBlue said.
Worth noting that this, for the moment, is a claim, though at first glance it seems a fairly plausible one. But I don't doubt 3D printing most — or eventually all of a gun — is on its way.
Just as I was thinking "holy shit," this conversation wended my way on Twitter:
That's Deb Chachra, weighing in on the issue and its implications. As she's a talented engineering professor, I tend to trust her thoughts when it comes to the difficulty of manufacturing the materials in a 3D printer, and that's usually struck me as the main hurdle. The evolution of reliable, accurate modern firearms is a relatively recent phenomenon, after all, and that's partly because manufacturing good guns ain't easy.
Still, weaponry's one of those basic things that has a way of up-ending power balances in unpredictable fashion. There's a reason I included the durable, easily-modified AK-47 in my list of Durable Infections that changed the world. Yes, in the United States it's far easier to buy guns than many other countries (we have about 270 million here) but we still have some control regimes, and the day someone can crank out serial-numberless guns those are thrown into disarray.
Elsewhere in the world, the potential for disruption is far greater. Assuming it will take awhile to make the trickier components through 3D printers, even the ability to quickly repair or keep older weapons in service for a longer time is a pretty significant change. Earlier this year, one of the emerging Syrian rebel groups claimed that their main challenge was a lack of weapons. Think how a steady supply of older rifles combined with a few gunsmiths and slightly more advanced 3D printers to get their weapons up to snuff could change their odds.
Is that scenario too fanciful? Am I missing something here? Let me know in the comments, I have a feeling this isn't the last time we'll see this issue.