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I was pleasantly surprised to hear that no less than the State Department is using international arms control regulations to block a 3D-printed-gun maker from publishing its designs online.  This struck me as a remarkably bold move from a US government that seems abjectly powerless in the face of the NRA on subjects where even 90% of the American people favor stricter regulations, so I started wondering about the politics behind the State Department's move.  It seems probable that if the company involved, "Defense Distributed" (because a lot of "defense" involves working to evade metal detectors, right?) had simply sold their mostly-plastic guns on a proprietary basis like a normal gun manufacturer rather than challenging the business model of the industry, there would have been no regulatory issue and no intervention.  

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In other words, it seems painfully likely that the "problem" the corrupt political establishment sees with 3D printed guns is not their potential to incite further chaos, but the fact that they threaten the ability of the gun industry to profit from that chaos.  We've seen similar dynamics playing out across every industry where the DIY potential of 3D printing is threatening to disrupt established businesses, and a lot of it has manifested in the form of "patent wars" where big companies are trying to hinder, delay, bully, or seize altogether the innovations that threaten their business model through patent trolling and other pernicious maneuvers.  

But the gun industry has an altogether different level of power and political weight, so rather than welcoming DIY 3D printed guns as the apotheosis of their alleged fetish for guns themselves (a fetish they mostly cultivate in their mindless followers, not themselves), most likely they see it with the same eye that utility companies see distributed solar energy: A long-term existential threat.  While I prefer not to be cynical, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the government felt secure in moving boldly against "Defense Distributed" because they were unopposed by the usual suspects.

Going forward, 3D printed DIY guns offer a double-edged sword with Badness on every side, at least in the medium-term: The rapid proliferation of the ability to cheaply and quickly manufacture your own safe, effective, stealthy firearms turns up the violent gun anarchy we already experience to 11, but over the longer term dilutes the power of the gun manufacturing industry behind the NRA.  That means that after some period of intensified horrors, increased public pressure combined with the eroded influence of the NRA would finally succeed in bringing about some sanity, and imposing controls on the DIY guns would be politically easier because there would be less of a concentrated, centralized industry behind them.

On the other hand, if 3D printed DIY guns end up being strongly controlled in their infancy, a lot of the chaos they would inspire could be forestalled - but at the price of continuing the status quo, with the power of the gun industry and its NRA mouthpiece becoming ever-more-concentrated.  In other words, the slow burn of our society within would continue and accelerate, with deliberate actors promoting the process of decline and destruction along lines that benefit them and using the proceeds to further corrupt our government against us.

So, ironically, sincere gun nuttery may be the key to undermining the malignant tumor of the NRA and its industrial masters.  I've thought for some time that a law requiring all firearms manufacturing and distribution to be non-profit under the Commerce clause would accomplish this in a way that avoids 2nd Amendment issues, but given the government's ludicrous malingering on passing even universal background checks, the state of the lawmaking process today makes that unlikely.  

But convincing gun nuts to technologically enable individuals to usurp the political role - and undermine the profits - of the manufacturers would accomplish the same thing by other means: The industry would bleed money, and it would take a lot longer for such a heavy physical industry to adapt than, say, media companies adapting to file sharing and streaming.  And even when they did adapt, it would be as a smaller part of a much more distributed ecosystem with far less concerted power to warp our politics.

However, I'm sure the industry is already aware of this, and already working on how to doublethink its way to stemming such a technology while continuing to demand total anarchy for the proprietary weapons it sells at a huge profit.  So if we start to see rafts of legislation specifically concerning 3D printed DIY guns sail through Congress that exempt traditional firearms while something as mind-numbingly obvious as universal background checks stalls, we'll know what's going on.  

If we can, we should just regulate the shit out of all guns, but I think we need to be aware that any attempt to control or stymie 3D printed DIY weapons in the absence of doing the same for traditional ones would be counterproductive over the long-term.  The profit of the manufacturers is what stymies gun legislation, not the passion of gun nuts - use the latter against the former.

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Originally posted to Troubadour on Sun May 12, 2013 at 05:26 AM PDT.

Also republished by Repeal or Amend the Second Amendment (RASA).

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