Long-time TTAG readers will recall my piece on the original Liberator pistol and the decision on the part of the Allies to not drop it into Occupied France. It wasn’t the first time a supposedly enlightened society has put political power and expediency ahead the safety of its citizens, and as any current resident of Chicago can tell you, it was far from the last . . .
Now we have another “Liberator” pistol, this one designed to be made using a 3-D printer and a nail. The United States of 2013 is not the France of 1943. We have nearly 300 million firearms in private hands. It’s probably much easier for the average man on the street to buy a gun than it would be for him to buy, assemble, and operate a 3-D printer of the required quality. For that reason alone, we can safely assume that the various fantasies being assembled around the Liberator idea by fanatics on both sides of the gun-control won’t come true any time soon. But that doesn’t mean the Liberator isn’t important. To the contrary. It’s the most important firearm of the twenty-first century.
While it’s easy to imagine a future in which 3-D printed pistols provide the oppressed citizens of hoplophobic metropolises an undetectable last means of self-defense against both an increasingly bold criminal element and the militarized police which symbiotically rely on that criminal element to justify their skyrocketing pay and vanishing civilian oversight, it will be quite some time before the reality catches up to the imagination. Right now, the typical candidate for Liberator ownership is somebody who is smart enough to obtain and operate an industrial 3-D printer (or commission Shapeways to make the parts) but who is dumb enough to willingly use a plastic pistol instead of a metal one. In other words, the customer base is firearms-rights advocates.
Nobody else is going to be interested. After all, we live in a country where even the Federal Government itself is occasionally in the business of deliberately selling firearms illegally to criminals. There are millions of guns available to someone who isn’t interested in abiding by our spellbindingly diverse body of firearms regulations, and pretty much all of them are better than the ones you can make yourself out of plastic. The Bloods and Crips won’t be giving up their Tec-9s, or even their Hi-Points, to sport Liberators in gang-appropriate colors out on the corner.
To some degree, the Liberator hysteria is a product of coastal-elite willful ignorance, the mentality that can encompass the 3-D printer and its capability but can’t quite understand the concept of a “machine shop” or the idea that such a thing might exist anywhere outside China. Surely the relative lack of furor over the eighty-percent receiver is due to the fact that the average Manhattanite assistant professor considers a drill press to be only slightly less mythical and magical than Ovid’s Minotaur. I mean, the idea of actually making something out of metal with a drill verges on the fantastical — but using a Mac Pro to carefully split up a Liberator CAD file across three separate commercial 3-D printers, snapping the resulting parts together without difficulty, and then using the resulting contraption to viciously, albeit briefly, shoot up a local school? Perfectly reasonable.
Insofar as it directly serves the cause of American freedom to continue letting Katie Couric think you need a River-Rouge-sized factory to make a Sten gun, let’s not talk any more about that. Instead, let’s discuss what’s really interesting about the Liberator: the fact that it makes the connection between the First and Second Amendments plain as day and clear as crystal to everybody who thinks as Ms. Couric does.
The Liberator is, first and foremost, an idea. It’s a plan. A document. It’s political speech; what’s more political in the America of 2013 than a firearm? But feed that political speech into a machine, and it becomes a weapon. A gun. A Saturday Night Special. Possibly even an assault weapon, if Senator Feinstein gets word of it. The first single-shot assault weapon in history. Speech becomes a weapon. A computer file becomes a gun. Just like that.
Our enlightened leaders know such a thing must not be permitted. But how to prevent it? They could simply ban 3-D printing; there are other reasons to do so, it’s a destabilizing technology, it threatens the market for everything from tools to toys. It would be a tricky bit of legislation to draft, however, and the first politician to break ranks and to promise a 3-D printer in every living room would be unstoppable.
They’ll make the Liberator itself illegal, whether or not it has the requisite detectable metal plate installed, with some ponderous piece of legislation that somehow also includes the Desert Eagle, but last time I checked crystal meth was extremely illegal, more dangerous and difficult to make than the Liberator, and it was easier to find than Elizabeth Warren’s Native American roots. Nope, that’s not going to be enough.
The solution to the Liberator “problem” is this: you make the possession of a firearm CAD build file a federal felony and then you use the government’s considerable resources to find out who has it. You throw aside any pretense of respecting either the First or the Second Amendments and you make the punishment for having that particular series of bytes on your computer so Draconian that the thought of being caught with it is enough to make your average libertarian voluntarily pull an Aaron Swartz. The nerds out there will pull all sorts of trickery with the file — masking it, hiding it in images, encrypting it, printing it out on T-shirts and posters — so you write the law in such a fashion as to make possession of any computer file sufficient justification to unleash Hell. You give the ATF and FBI unlimited, arbitrary power to enforce the legislation. It’s the perfect gift to accessorize their tanks and their stormtrooper outfits and their HK PDWs.
Make no mistake, even in the current political climate, doing what I’ve suggested above would be difficult, possibly even impossible. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t individuals thinking about it. Hoping for it. Trying to make it a reality. And those individuals were elected freely by the American people, and most of them will be re-elected or replaced by individuals ideologically indistinguishable from them.
It’s scary. Scary enough to make you think about printing out a plastic single-shot pistol and setting it aside for a day you hope will never come. Isn’t it?