The world’s first 3D printed gun. Creativity misfired?

The first 3D printed gun was fired last week on a gun range in Texas. It’s a development that has been expected since law student Cody Wilson has been been making significant noise about his plans over the last few months. We have covered the gun’s development as plans were printed on line, and now the gun is a reality. It’s also a development that contains some lessons on the unintended consequences of creativity.

The gun, produced by Defense Distributed and called the Liberator, is named after the inexpensive guns distributed by the Allies in WWII France. The 3D printed gun is comprised of 16 parts. Fifteen of the parts were printed on a 3D printer. Only the metal firing pin was not manufactured on the printer, but any nail at a hardware store can be used.

We’ve written a great deal about the creative potential of 3D printing in the last couple of months. It is a tremendous, disruptive technology with almost unlimited potential. But any time a disruptive technology comes on to the scene it introduces a scene of some chaos as we try to figure out all of the details. It really is a Wild West mentality. This time around is no exception. There are, of course, copyright issues, and here we’re in uncharted waters, especially when we’re dealing with parts or components. Now, we’re dealing, unexpectedly, with issues of security and ethics.

Defense Distributed’s founder, law student Cody Wilson, said he distributed plans for the gun and manufactured it to prove a point about freedom of expression. It’s his not too subtle way of proclaiming his opinion about utility of gun control. Unfortunately, this is not a law school hypothetical with a emphasis on debate and discussion. It’s real life, with all of the complications that come with it.

3D printed guns pose an especially dangerous risk. The available of 3D printed guns are another way that weapons are available to people who could not otherwise obtain them. There is an argument that anyone who wants a gun can find one, but why provide yet another way for them to access them? There’s also a security issue. The guns are difficult to protect by the typical detection methods used at airports and other places. They are, after all, plastic. Do we really want to provide yet another delivery vehicle for terrorists and others who wish to do us harm? A common response here is that we can’t stop everyone… The Boston Bombers armed themselves with weapons home made from pressure cookers and fireworks, so, they ask, should we outlaw those everyday devices? The answer, of course, is no. But we do need to draw the line somewhere. I think that gun control advocates and Second Amendment absolutists might be able to agree with the imperative of not arming those most likely to use those arms against us.

It is an interesting discussion, but how does it related to creativity? My answer is that the manufacture of the first 3D printed gun offers a great example of the power of technology and innovation. Nothing is created in a vacuum and there are ramifications to everything that we do. This is not in any way an argument against innovation – far from it. It’s simply an admonition to consider all of the implications of creativity in its many guises.


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