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3D Printed Guns: Time for Parental Control?

on Aug 18 2014 , 10:02:33

When I brought home a 3D printer for the first time my boys were intrigued. What can it do? How fast does it go? What colors can it print in? Can it really print guns like they said in the news?

No, we didn’t end up printing a gun, nor did we print any other sort of weapon, but the question kept popping up in my head.

Recently, we have been witnessing a growing debate stemming from a fear surrounding 3D-printed guns. Those who propose regulation are concerned with the ease with which one can download a file containing the blueprint needed to print all of the gun’s parts, run to the nearest 3D printer, and produce a brand-new gun.

Indeed, this will probably be a very limited weapon in comparison to what can be made in an arms factory. But limited as it may be, it can still be lethal.

It’s not only the production of 3D-printed guns that keeps the security authorities awake at night; it is also the ability to detect such weapons. A metal detector will not be able to detect a 3D-printed plastic gun, and while there are other forms of detectors today, it will still require additional resources and methods that are not as widespread.

The pro-regulatory side is still a bit confused. They don’t want to see 3D-printed guns on the streets; however, they don’t want to limit people’s access to technology. Some of them propose that anyone purchasing a 3D printer be required to register with the proper authorities. Others look to add metal plates into printed guns to prevent them from evading detectors. A few even suggest limiting access to any file with information that can lead to the manufacturing of 3D-printed weapons.

3D printed Guns Don’t Kill People, People do

I must admit that I have a fundamental objection to limiting the advancement of technology. A 3D printer can make a gun. That’s a fact. But it can also make thousands of other things that can benefit mankind. It can make medical devices, games, fashion, art, and so much more if it is used right. This is the same for a knife that can cut a salad but can also slash a throat. It is amusing to even consider ownership registration of all knives in today’s world.

The problem is not the technology, but rather how and for what it is used.  If we agree that that is the case then criminal law does provide an adequate approach. In many countries, manufacturing and use of firearms is only allowed under license from proper authorities.

Any deviation from that – whether for commercial reasons or for one’s own use – may result in criminal prosecution. There is no need for additional regulation to avoid the manufacturing of guns by 3D printers given that the manufacture and use of firearms is already regulated.

Yet, I’m still bothered by my boys’ innocent curiosity to see a 3D-printed gun. My fear is not their nascent criminal intentions, but rather their natural inquisitiveness.

If the manufacture of guns is so easy today and 3D printers are becoming ever-more accessible to all of us, the mere chance that a kid will get a hold of a gun and may even try to use it should be the main concern.

It is clear to me that the registration of printers, criminal laws, and even enforcement will not eliminate this chance. We cannot be at every household at every single moment. This is not the regulator’s job, but rather it’s for the parents to do.

It’s the education, stupid

We must shift the focus of discussion today from regulation to education. We must create tools and programs that teach our kids what is right and wrong and how to properly use technology to do good. We cannot and should not deprive curiosity. This is the source of learning and education. Instead we should help to funnel it to the right direction.

So instead of considering an additional regulatory burden placed on 3D-printing technology, we should start giving more thought to parental control of what our kids are exposed to and how they actually use their enhanced capabilities. In that sense, 3D printers could be a wonderful educational tool, and the fact that one can make a gun with it requires parental attention that in my mind is much more effective and timely than the rest of the proposals that are out there today.


Roy Keidar is the CEO of Reut Mountain Movers Ltd and co-founder and CEO of the XLN (Cross-Lab-Network), a network of communal technological centers designed to provide access to digital manufacturing technology for people of all ages and backgrounds. Roy holds L.L.B. and L.L.M from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and an M.P.A from the J.F.K school of government in Harvard University.

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