3D printable guns and threats to national security

It is never a good idea to get into a debate on the US Constitution’s Second Amendment – the one that talks about the ‘right to bear arms’ – because it is pointless.  Gun advocates seldom have any interest in discussing their God-given freedom to carry a weapon, any weapon including some very powerful automatic rifles that can fire a gazillion rounds a minute and hence wound and kill dozens in a heartbeat.  Opponents are accused of ‘hating freedom’ and undermining the US way of life.  Pursuing this exchange is a waste of time.

Now a new twist has entered the conversation.  Some guy named Cody Wilson, a ‘self-styled crypto-anarchist’ (whatever the hell that means), perfected a downloadable, printable plastic gun back in 2013 and it spread like wildfire, and despite efforts to stop the sharing of its specs the US Justice Department ruled last month that Americans may “access, discuss, use and reproduce” the technical data” associated with the weapon (a Washington judge, however, blocked the distribution of the schematics hours before they were to be made readily available).  Even Donald Trump has expressed concern over these weapons and that is saying something!

Call me a coward, call me a pacifist, call me a socialist, call me a wimp, call me whatever, but who in their right mind thinks that this technology is a good thing?  Surely to God Mr. Wilson must be aware that there are already 300 quintillion firearms (gross estimate) of all shapes and sizes available in the US and that one can buy an AK-47 as easily as one can a litre (sorry: quart!) of milk in that country.  What possible gap does this invention fill??  And how could a court be ok with this?

Some would argue that the court is irrelevant in any event since the technology is already out there thanks to the aforementioned ‘crypto-anarchist’.  It doesn’t really matter as the knowledge has probably been passed around countless times by gun enthusiasts.  The cat is out of the bag – or perhaps better put the bullet is out of the barrel.

I am not a gun expert by any stretch of the imagination but I have read that this firearm is not very good.  It is, after all, made of plastic, can only be fired once, and there is an equal chance that it will explode in the face of the user upon firing.  But the technology will improve with time and these weapons will become very lethal.

So, what does all this have to do with national security and public safety?  Lots.  For instance:

a) these guns are not registered and cannot be easily traced, complicating police investigations;

b) these guns have no metal parts and cannot be detected easily by current scanning technology;

c) people who cannot legally obtain a gun – or get one illegally – can now build their own, making a mockery of restraining orders or peace bonds;

d) even if the gun is not very good the public won’t know that and will panic at the sight of a person walking down the street – especially at night – brandishing one; and

e) anyone, and I mean anyone including terrorists and radicalised lone actors, can get one as long as they have the right printer.

We do not have to agree on whether guns are good or not to agree that this is a very, very, very bad idea.  I don’t know what was going through Mr. Wilson’s mind when he had this brain fart – I guess that is why he calls himself ‘crypto’.  Sane people everywhere have to band together to try to stop this.  This is utter madness.  Humans are capable of some truly remarkable and inspiring achievements; this is not one of them.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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