I think most of what can be said about the current outbreak of volcanic diarrhea among gun-grabbers and assorted nannys over the specter of 3-D guns has been said. Once you start getting your intellectual content from Alyssa Milano’s crayon scribblings at CNN, the chance of any rational discussion is pretty much gone.
But let me offer my two cents here. This was a lost opportunity to discuss an emerging issue.
Over the past century or so, the law has never really kept pace with changes that technology has made possible. We’ve seen it in business. How do we deal with a rapacious multi-national like Google, or just a stupid one like Facebook, that has no national allegiance and makes its money by selling granular-level personal information on its customers. The Supreme Court has had to wrestle with the Fourth Amendment implications of police-planted GPS devices and the use of cell phone tower data to track individual movement.
While it is fun to mock the panic over 3-D printing of firearms
— Matt’s Idea Shop (@MattsIdeaShop) August 1, 2018
there are a lot of not very astute arguments being made:
The most important thing to keep in mind is that 3-D printing of metal components is real.
And there is no real reason why firearms need to be made mostly of metal. That is why we have the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. Advances in materials technologies are opening the way to non-metallic gun barrels. DOD is researching a ceramic barrel liner wrapped in carbon fiber as an alternative to metal barrels.
The cost and convenience arguments, in particular, should be seen as specious. Rather than pick on Twitter randos, let’s see what some really smart people have predicted about technology.
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977
When you aren’t all that brilliant, things get more problematic. Herman Goering famously said you could either have a high performance fighter with limited range or you could have a flying barn door. When the first P-51 Mustangs appeared over Berlin, his prediction was publicly refuted.
The bottom line is that virtually all technological innovations have gotten smaller and cheaper and people dream up uses for them that the inventor’s never dreamed of. Let’s take a look a some of these. The first handheld calculator capable of advance arithmetic functions came on the the market in 1972 at a cost of $395. For sake of comparison, keep in mind the minimum wage was $1.60 and for a struggling college student to own one, he had to work 247 hours…a little over six weeks. By 1977, the price was $19.95, representing 8.7 hours of work at a $2.30 minimum wage. And the device had more power and functionality. By the early 80s they were giveaway items.
Much the same story applies to office copiers. They first came on the market in 1950. They cost $29,700.and weighed nearly 700 pounds. Now you can get a much more capable and portable machine for well under $2000.
Right now, there is zero reason why anyone would want to try to build a firearm from by using a 3-D printer. We can say with certainty that will not always be the case. Once 3-D printing starts, there will be a lot of them. And using metals or materials that perform like metals will be a priority. Can you imagine the number of trips to Home Depot you’d save if you could just print drill bits, screws, deck screws, parts to your lawnmower, etc., on that 3-D printer under the workbench in your garage? In fact, Home Depot will have rows of them. Your mechanic will love it.
The real debate here should be over how we want to handle this eventuality because a 3-D printer that can produce gun components will set the current gun registration regime on its ear. Instead we have a lot of white noise and an idiot judge overruling the First Amendment. One thing that technology has showed us is that you can never say never and you can never fully predict the changes it will bring about. And change is best managed in an orderly intelligent way over time rather than in a panic mode.
But panic is sort of our default setting as a society and that’s how we’ll proceed.
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