After I first read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, I first played Deus Ex, and the first time I watched Robocop (the original one, obviously), I wondered just how close we were to living in a proper Cyberpunk world. How many years would it be until sprawling neon-laden cities took over the landscape, and I could finally start answering every question with ‘I never asked for this’ in a gravelly voice.
Well, we can get out our leather trenchcoats and wraparound sunglasses because we’ve made it. Multi-billionaires are selling flamethrowers and trying to get to Mars. We can buy holographic anime ‘wives’ that control various aspects of our homes. You can download and print a functioning handgun right from your study.
If this isn’t straight out of a Paul Verhoeven flick, then I don’t know what to believe anymore.
But as exciting as it is to be living in a world straight out of a bad 80’s movie, it does come with its share of concerns. Obviously I’m talking about the 3D printed handguns here (although anime wives are pretty troubling too).
The issue isn’t with these guns themselves, however, but with how they are to be regulated. As we’ve learned in the past, there is very little that lawmakers can do about the internet. Even after being shut down, the Silk Road, an online, totally-anonymous marketplace where anything and everything could be procured, was quickly reborn and saw twice as much traffic and sales.
Trying to regulate an area as vast and anonymous as the internet is like fighting the fabled Hydra; cut off one head, another appears in its place. Share blueprints for these guns will be no exception.
When it comes to 3D printed guns, the story is no different. While the US government has decided to disallow the release of blueprints, it is only a matter of time before someone else either leaks them or comes up with their own.
Indeed, it’s going to become far, far more difficult for states to keep people disarmed, but it hasn’t exactly been easy in the past; illegally procuring a gun is possible even in countries with strict regulations, such as the UK. This will become far easier in the regulatory purgatory that is the internet.
Should we be concerned about this? Probably not. For the time being, most 3D printed guns are woefully ineffective when compared to the firearms already available today. With many being able only to fire a single shot, there’s hardly any reason to worry about printable street-sweepers just yet.
In fact, homemade ‘zip’ guns have already been around for years, and remain a far cheaper, far more effective alternative to 3D printing. At best, being able to 3D print a gun is little more than a novelty with very few practical purposes.
Of course, this isn’t to say that this will be the case forever. As technology progresses, we can naturally expect 3D printed weapons to streamline into more efficient, cheaper versions of themselves.
Yet this does not change the fact that 3D printing is unlikely to make illegal gun procurement any easier. Whether bootlegged or homemade, criminals have always found ways of getting their hands on nasty weaponry.
Let’s not fall into the hysteria-trap here. 3D guns present no real danger, and are not an excuse for moral panic or further regulation. We shouldn’t be looking at these new methods as cause for even more restrictions on what weapons Brits may or may not own.
In fact, with gun and knife crime on the rise in the UK, it’s really about time we start to question whether our heavy-handed approach works at all. Perhaps 3D printing is the wake-up call we need to look at sensible gun policy reform, attacking the causes of violence rather than the methods, and without depriving law-abiding citizens the right to defend themselves.
It’s time to get rational about guns. 3D printing may seem like a sign of a terrifying new world, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Let’s turn the debate around and look for new ways of curtailing violence rather than simple bans.
The hysteria around 3D printed guns threaten to provoke further justification for state control over weapons and the internet. We musn’t let it. Let’s turn this discussion around and push for sensible policies that don’t interfere with our personal freedoms at home, at the gun range, or online.