Banning “undetectable” printed guns and the NRA dilemma

Posted by Rob Enderle

It is fairly difficult to pass a gun ban through Congress unless it is related to 3D printed firearms which Congress is moving to ban again. The NRA, which is pretty rabid about any form of gun control, is silent on this issue largely because it is funded by gun manufacturers who really don’t want people printing copies of their product rather than buying one.  

The problem? Metal 3D printers are coming to market and they can print guns that are nearly indistinguishable from machined ones. Meaning, in a few short years, this could allow a gun shop to simply print whatever a customer wanted, effectively putting gun manufacturers out of business.  

The NRA is in a bad place to combat this because, once you get to metal, it might look pretty hypocritical to just focus on blocking a 3D printed guns alone. Being able to print guns in your house would make the 2nd Amendment far more powerful. Of course banning guns you can’t detect is kind of like banning invisible aliens, good luck with enforcement. So let’s chat about how the NRA may have backed itself into a corner and be screwed.

Smart Guns

The NRA has blocked almost every move towards smart guns which has limited the development of technology which would wed a gun to the owner and prevent it, electronically, from being used by a thief or child. This will come back to haunt them because, if smart guns were required, we are a long way from printing the necessary technology for electronics. Were it patented by the gun companies it would be illegal to build components unless you were a gun company - assuring their business model for another decade or so. But it is easy now to print plastics, ceramics, and metals making it possible to easily print a gun which could wipe out most traditional gun companies in 5 years.  Even the military could just buy a few hundred printers and then the raw materials in bulk and custom build guns for each soldier for less than what mass production might cost (the soldiers who have to train on assembly and disassembly anyway for cleaning could build their own guns for a fraction of the cost of buying new). 

Blocking 3D Printing

There is just something funny about blocking "undetectable guns." I mean if you can detect the gun to cite its owner wouldn’t it then be detectible so the law wouldn’t apply?  "You’re under arrest, I see you have an undetectable gun, never mind…"  But if the war on drugs was a bitch to enforce, well, keeping people with 3D printers from downloading plans for a gun and then printing it would be much harder. In fact just trying to prevent this might make it more exciting to do, kind of like all the effort to block people from downloading first run movies or ripping DVDs in that case it was almost as if the folks trying to prevent the activity were instead building demand for it.  

The same is likely here, the more folks try to make printing guns illegal the more creative ways 3D printer users will likely come up with to get around or actively avoid the law.  This might actually end up accelerating the move away from traditionally purchased guns because you could do things like custom design them to fit in sleeves, shoes, belts or build them into clothing to increase their “invisibility” and make them better for self-defense than a regular gun sitting in a safe with a trigger lock at home.   

So I think the efforts to block 3D printed guns will likely eventually accelerate the practice. Little Johnny who is being bullied may once again show up to school armed, this time with a gun he printed off the internet.  Kids tend to view laws as light suggestions because they don’t fully understand consequences yet.  

Wrapping Up:

The NRA appears to have a going out of business strategy with regard to 3D printed guns and likely needs to rethink their policy with regard to smart weapons in order to make them harder to print. Ironicall,y that would both make the guns safer and help preserve the industry but, I expect, they’ll do nothing and in a few short years will be wondering where their funding went.