By Cranky Buddha
I’ve participated in a number of arguments and discussions on the effectiveness of increased gun control laws, up to and including outright gun bans. Mostly they revolve around statistics, studies and comparisons of various places that have such laws with those that don’t. In some cases the complete ineffectiveness of prohibiting things like alcohol and marijuana is also used as an argument against gun laws. There’s plenty of information out there on the number of defensive gun uses every year and lives they save. These arguments are, at best, ineffective and quite possibly counterproductive if the point is to save lives and reduce violent crime. But there’s a simple and important side of this debate that almost everyone on both sides of this issue is missing — the technology aspect . . .
The last significant change in firearms technology was the use of “advanced” materials such as aluminum and plastics, almost 60 years ago. The magazine fed semi-automatic has been around for over one hundred 100 years. The metallic cartridge is over 150 years old. Hand-held firearms have been around for well over 600 years and the technology of gunpowder was documented by the Chinese over 1000 years ago. So there’s nothing really new under the sun when it comes to firearms technology.
In fact, anyone with basic metalworking tools available from most hardware stores and plans that are freely available on the Internet can make magazine fed, fully automatic firearms (yes, machine guns) in their garage. Don’t believe me? Late last year Australian authorities arrested man for doing just that.
Back alley gunsmiths from Cebu City, Philippines and Darra Adam Khel, Pakistan have been producing exact copies of just about any firearm you might want with little more than hand tools for almost 100 years.
After Dunkirk the British needed to replace the firearms lost during the evacuation. They needed something that could be made quickly and cheaply in small workshops and garages that were more difficult to disrupt by air attack than large factories. The result of this need was the STEN submachine gun. Around 4 million STENs were made, many of them in small workshops in German occupied countries including Poland, Norway and Denmark.
Modern technology is poised on the brink of a major revolution in manufacturing and product distribution that will also have a direct impact on the effectiveness of firearms restrictions. Computers, coupled with “3D” printers, could make the manufacture and distribution of many items as simple downloading music or books from the Internet. A purchased item would be downloaded in the form of a specific file type that’s then sent to the 3D printer which makes the object within a few minutes or hours. While this technology is currently still in its infancy, it’s maturing rapidly. It’s already possible to download a free file and “print” a 30-round magazine for an AR-15 or M16.
The AR was designed to be a modular weapon. That means removing a couple of pins allows me to change out the upper portion of the weapon quickly and easily. This is one of the key reasons for the current popularity of the AR. One rifle can be converted quickly and easily to different calibers and tasks. The same rifle came be converted from a home defense rifle to a .22LR plinker to a hunting rifle in minutes.
Because of this modularity, the lower receiver is the only part to carry a serial number. The lower is the part that’s considered to be the firearm, legally speaking. The same organization that makes the file for the printable magazine available is testing a lower receiver for the AR platform.
Files to print other parts of the firearm are also under development.
The bottom line is that gun technology is very old and not particularly complicated. It takes little more than some basic skills and equipment to manufacture high quality, magazine-fed firearms. While legitimate commercial manufactures are limited to selling semi-automatic firearms to civilians, should gun manufacturing go underground it’s at least as easy, if not easier, for a shade tree gunsmith to build fully automatic firearms — machine guns — instead.
Emerging technologies will allow individuals to “print” component parts for firearms with little more effort than printing a letter. Will law-abiding citizens engage in these activities? Most won’t. Will criminals? Of course.
So, ultimately, the only possible outcome of gun control is the disarmament law abiding citizens; leaving guns in the hands of the criminals and the government.
A version of this article originally appeared at Notes From a Cranky Buddha and is reprinted here with permission.