There’s a common thread among gun control activists — they fear change and technology. They are modern troglodytes, wishing that we could just turn back the clock and retreat into the comfortable, blissful ignorance of the 1990’s. It’s no wonder then that the same people who get the vapors whenever they see a modern AR-15 damn near piss their pantaloons when things like 3D printing come up. Their world view is predicated on the idea that the only way for people to get guns — if they must get them — is through gun dealers. The idea of private citizens manufacturing firearms themselves is as frightening as Godzilla to a Tokyo businessman . . .
The ability to “print” or manufacture guns privately will allow individuals to bypass background checks, the primary way that guns are regulated today. And that challenge will expand exponentially as the technology advances, one day enabling individuals to print chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction at home.
That refrain is a common one we hear from gun control activists time and again. “If you think X is okay, how about nuclear weapons? What then smart guy? Shouldn’t we ban those?” It’s a lazy argument that Chicken Little types resort to when they have run out of logic. In this case, it doesn’t even make sense.
Homemade firearms manufacturing has been going great guns (so to speak) since well before the American revolution. The ability to take raw materials and turn them into a functioning firearm has always been possible, and as technology has improved the manufacturing process has improved as well.
Today, the modern musket (the AR-15) is capable of being manufactured in an afternoon with nothing more than a drill and a couple jigs. Hundreds of thousands of such firearms, 100% untraceable and procured without a background check, are in circulation right now. But that’s not what has the author’s knickers in a twist. Instead of the cheap and easy to make homemade rifles, the authors are concerned about the complicated, expensive, and unreliable 3D printed guns.
Today, licensed firearms dealers are responsible for conducting background checks and ensuring that they sell only to people legally eligible to purchase. That’s part of the reason that Obama’s 2013 gun-control proposals included not only more restrictions on who is permitted to buy and own guns, but also called for private sellers — who today don’t have to run background checks — to sell instead through licensed dealers.
That’s not possible when individuals can print their own weapons at home. With no seller, who runs background checks or denies purchase? The government’s control mechanisms fall apart.
This is not a futuristic speculation; 3-D printed handguns are already on the street. The government is struggling to respond to these guns, which are hard to detect and deadly.
Like I said, the authors truly believe that the only way people should be able to buy a gun is by going through a gun dealer. They completely ignore the rich history of homemade firearms and backyard tinkerers, believing that 3D printing is something truly new and novel.
I do already have a minor gripe: none of these 3D printed guns are “on the street.” Currently the 3D printed handguns available are single shot affairs with very limited reliability and capacity. It is far easier for criminals to get their hands on actual firearms, which are not only more reliable but more concealable as well. Using 3D printed firearms would make no sense, but that doesn’t stop the authors from making baseless claims that aren’t backed up by any facts whatsoever.
Show me a single murder that has used a 3D printed handgun and I will eat my hat.
The threat of privately printed weapons will soon grow beyond the lethal handguns now in circulation. As we argue in research forthcoming in the October issue of the Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, considering expected advances in the technologies, terrorist groups will threaten nations with 3-D printed chemical, biological and nuclear weapons within a couple of decades.
This is where things go completely off the rails, and I feel the need to include some of my credentials before proceeding.
Before I started writing for TTAG, I was employed as a risk analyst for the Department of Homeland Security. I participated in performing risk analyses on topics such as terrorism, transnational crimes, and natural hazards. I can remember very distinctly the weeks I spent in a secure room reading over the official classified reports concerning CBRNE terrorism. As such, I get the feeling that I’m just a little bit more of an expert in chemical, biological, and nuclear terrorism than a professor of political science and his PhD candidate.
What’s my opinion of their fears that someone will one day 3D print a nuclear bomb? Complete and utter bullshit. The same goes for chemical and biological weapons.
For someone who doesn’t understand the way technology works, it might be understandable to believe that a 3D printer could produce a nuclear weapon. But it only takes the slightest bit of information to conclude that anyone who thinks a 3D printer can recreate Fat Man or Little Boy is roughly on the same intellectual level as the people who believe everything they read in the National Enquirer. There’s simply no way for it to happen, and any discussion on the issue only serves to stoke the fears of the uninformed for political gain.
If the Washington Post really believes that you can 3D print a nuclear bomb, I’m surprised they have enough collective brainpower to print anything at all.