Disrupt It Yourself

Technophiles have been hand-wringing a bit lately over the rise of Defense Distributed, who have successfully tested a (mostly) printed firearm. Here’s a representative reaction from my Twitter feed:

Open Design and 3D printing is not all good: first 3D printed gun is now a fact, huge implications

There’s an eagerness for future shock, here, that reminds me of the breathless predictions of a cyber-future from the early days of Wired magazine. This is not the disruptive event that will establish 3D printing’s place in history as a world-changing technology.

Homemade firearms have a long history. As a child in the 1980s interested in phreaking and pyrotechnics, I encountered plenty of instructions for zip guns. Three decades later, and the same can easily be found in amateur YouTube videos and more serious efforts. No 3D printer required.

Doubtless, as printer capabilities and these designs evolve, the “wiki weapon” plans will grow beyond these hacks. But this technology is only augmenting (and maybe replacing) the functions of machine shops, which have already been used to skirt gun law by selling full-featured firearms as kits.

I admire the critical hack Defense Distributed is performing here, calling out the futility of technology-restriction law and, perhaps unwittingly, bringing discussion of gun control to a broader audience. It’s worth ongoing consideration whether we can legislate access to dangerous things that people can easily build or grow for themselves, and this project is more attention-grabbing than violating intellectual property. Let us not be fooled, though, into thinking this is a technology story.


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