I am and always have been a strong advocate for embracing new technology which allows us to help improve our daily lives but we need to be careful how we use it. If you hadn’t guessed, I am talking about 3D printing and specifically the recent news that a working gun has been fired that was created using a 3D printer.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is the process of making a 3 dimensional object from a digital model, thanks Wikipedia. At a very simplistic level, the printer prints various different layers which correspond to the digital model that somebody has designed and then it is all fused together to create a finished product. In reality it is not difficult to create a 3D printed object and it is even more simple when the digital model is already provided for you for free and is openly available to use.
What is it used for?
3D printers were mainly used for prototypes but with a continuing drop in price as they become more affordable they are being used for every day items. Just this week students at my complex were taught how to design their own products such as name tags for doors. This was done by “ordinary” people who don’t have a strong grasp of technology but then they don’t need to. All they wanted was to have a bit of fun and create something that was theirs with a sense of achievement for doing so.
The outstanding question is does such a technology need to be governed by some type of rules? I question what the benefit of a 3D printed gun is? The argument is apparently that it’s a fundamental right and freedom to have a gun (in the US) and this is just another way of being able to exercise that right. I do not actually agree with that view and if we allow 3D gun printing then it could and probably will have rather grave consequences. At a time when there is such a strong debate going on in Washington and the US, this move was always going to generate debate from both sides. What’s interesting is that Europol (a European wide law enforcement agency) has waded into the debate and warned that such a technology could result in helping criminals. They are right it could, but then so could many other technologies.
I do not see any benefit to printing a 3D gun but I am not advocating this technology should be banned. What I do think needs to happen is to put a framework in place so that protections are there that helps prevent young children from being able to just download a design to print a gun that they can then use. It cannot be right that printing a gun for anybody to use is a good thing.
There is also another element to this debate – how easy would it be for criminals to just start producing their own weapons? We should be making steps to restrict guns being on the streets, not the opposite.
I think its also important though that we try to use a soft approach as well and try to educate people as to why you need to be responsible with technology otherwise the few run the risk of spoiling it for the many. It will be interesting to see how the media and commentators reach to this news and what the next steps will be.
Senator Charles Schumer of NY State will apparently make a push to legislate against making the individual parts of plastic weapons. His concerns apparently relate to law enforcement being able to detect these plastic guns. Whatever the reason, I think in this instance there is a strong argument to legislate against this ONE SPECIFIC circumstance relating to this technology. I am also proud it happens to be in the state where I live.