As a former Texas resident, I can attest to the fact that Texans love their guns. Now, with 3D printers becoming more readily available, a University of Texas at Austin student decided that the most logical thing to do is print a gun and then share the plans on the Internet. UT law student Cody Wilson claims he is roughly three weeks away from using a 3D printer to printing a gun, the plans for which he will share online. It seems a regulatory and legal firestorm will not be far behind.
A 3D printer is a machine that creates three-dimensional solid objects from digital designs. It essentially combines thin strips of metal or plastic resin to make solid parts. Once printed, the user can take the parts and combine them to make mechanical objects such as a clock. This technology sounds pretty cool, but it obviously raises a host of issues in the realm of intellectual property. However, these IP theft issues are nothing new. The music industry has been facing them since the era of blank cassette tapes.
But 3D printers also present a whole knew Pandora’s Box of legal problems. While it has been legal to manufacture firearms for your own use, it has been cost prohibitive and difficult to make anything beyond a glorified toy. Now, people such as Cody Wilson can make a copy of the parts of a gun and then with a little reassembly . . . Voila! A high quality gun with no serial number that the government has no idea even exists. No hassle with age restrictions or background checks. No worries about those silly limits on what types of guns you can buy (e.g., no fully automatic weapons). Essentially, with 3D printers, individuals can make weapons that completely eviscerate gun control laws.
It also raises interesting products liability issues. Let’s say someone puts the design plans on the Internet for a Glock 45mm handgun. Then say someone “prints” the gun and assembles it. After initially functioning properly, it explodes in the shooter’s hand. Who faces liability? Is Glock on the hook if it was a design flaw? Is the printer manufacturer on the hook if one of the parts failed to print properly? Is the person who uploaded the plans liable if something was amiss? You get the idea.
This brings us back to Cody Wilson and his “print a gun” project. Printing guns is not a new idea. In fact, someone has already created one “printed” gun by printing some parts and combining them with other “non-printed” parts. Wilson, on the other hand, wants to “print” the whole gun just to prove it can be done. But then he wants to release the gun design, which has been dubbed “the wiki weapon,” so that it can be easily shared online and recreated.
Wilson told The Daily Texan that the underlying reason for the project was to send the message: “Don’t just sit around like we have been doing for hundreds of years writing a thesis about the perfect utopia or something. Make it.” Leave it to a Texan to envision a utopia that involves unlimited access to guns that magically appear from a printer.
Seriously, though, with all the recent controversy around gun ownership and gun laws, it is surprising that this issue has not garnered more attention.