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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.  

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.

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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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    Today's trivia becomes tomorrow's sacrament.

    by Troubadour on Sun May 12, 2013 at 05:26:22 AM PDT

  •  Banning 3D printed guns would be like banning... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alain2112

    ...3D printed child pornography.

  •  These are glorified fucking zip guns. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    anonymous volanakis, notrouble

    There is no great chaos that they can cause.

    Wash. Judge Tells Cops To Return Man’s Marijuana Or Be Found In Contempt

    by JesseCW on Sun May 12, 2013 at 05:46:12 AM PDT

    •  Are zip guns legal? (nt) (0+ / 0-)
      •  Certainly not in my state - but designs for them (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dream weaver

        are.

        Wash. Judge Tells Cops To Return Man’s Marijuana Or Be Found In Contempt

        by JesseCW on Sun May 12, 2013 at 06:29:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's likely to change when those "designs"... (0+ / 0-)

          ...consist of actual files for controlling the actions of 3D printers.

          The analogy that I would use is child pornography. An instructional manual on how to make it might very well be legal, but a computer file (say a jpg file) that actually precisely controls the actions of a 2D printer is illegal to distribute or possess, despite the fact that the internet makes widespread distribution easy.

    •  Bullshit. (0+ / 0-)

      These are efficiently-designed, mass-produceable weapons that will only increase in functionality and decline in cost with time.

      Today's trivia becomes tomorrow's sacrament.

      by Troubadour on Sun May 12, 2013 at 06:05:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Plastics don't make barrels worth a damn. (4+ / 0-)

        In some ways, with throw-away barrels, these are less functional than some zip guns.

        They also take a lot more to build.

        This is an asshole trying to create a controversy, and people falling for it.  These are guns which will not be accurate to more than a few feet, with barrels that can only be used once.

        Anyone with access to the most basic machine shop can create far more functional weapons from designs that are already freely available - and I'm talking about lathes and basic milling machines that cost no more than a truly functional (not a 400 dollar super low res toy) 3d printer.

        Wash. Judge Tells Cops To Return Man’s Marijuana Or Be Found In Contempt

        by JesseCW on Sun May 12, 2013 at 06:33:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Metal working is not a trivial skill. (0+ / 0-)

          Even in the infancy of the technology, downloading and applying 3D printer specs is much easier than developing proficiency as a machinist.  That's why being a machinist is a career, not a minimum-wage McDonald's job.

          Today's trivia becomes tomorrow's sacrament.

          by Troubadour on Sun May 12, 2013 at 06:42:27 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The outcome is a "gun" similar to what (0+ / 0-)

            you could make with a nail and a gas pipe.

            If you're close enough to hit someone with the thing, you're close enough to shank them.

            Wash. Judge Tells Cops To Return Man’s Marijuana Or Be Found In Contempt

            by JesseCW on Sun May 12, 2013 at 07:52:18 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  We just did a post on this and (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, Troubadour

    BagNewsNotes: Visual Politics, Media Image Analysis

    by ksh01 on Sun May 12, 2013 at 05:55:23 AM PDT

  •  So, Idiot McGunguy prints up a gun, (6+ / 0-)

    stuffs a bullet into it and it fu(ks up and blows his hand off.
    Who does he sue?

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Sun May 12, 2013 at 06:07:02 AM PDT

  •  If It Can Print Guns It Can Print Bagpipes. nt (4+ / 0-)

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun May 12, 2013 at 06:13:12 AM PDT

  •  Didn't Forbes report that over 100K blueprints (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, hmi, notrouble

    were already downloaded?

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Sun May 12, 2013 at 06:21:00 AM PDT

  •  Just what we want— (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    notrouble, pico

    the State Dept. "imaginatively repurposing" laws intended to fight arms trafficking in order to prevent, not trafficking, but publication of information. Because, of course, we want the State Dept. to be in a position to decide what both 1st and 2nd amendment privileges we are entitled to exercise. I don't see any problem with that. Do you see any problem with that? I also feel certain that the next Condi Rice will be perfect person to tell me what I can and cannot publish. And I just always knew that the SC got that Pentagon Papers case wrong, I just knew it!

  •  Interesting approval (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    notrouble
    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.
    Given that the State Department banned the distribution because foreigners could access them, it would mean you are pleasantly surprised that government policy is that only Americans should have this sort of thing. From the official letter to Defense Distributed:
    “Please note that disclosing (including oral or visual disclosure) or transferring technical data to a foreign person, whether in the United States or abroad, is considered an export”
    On the other hand, at the bottom of the diary you seem to state that censorship of this sort should be discouraged if there is not corresponding sorts of restrictions on conventional manufacture.

    So, are you pro-censorship or anti-censorship? In general, and on this particular issue.

    And while I am poking at you for the apparent ambiguity, let me ask a serious question. How, in an age of torrents and anonymous downloading, can material like this be prevented from reaching anyone who wants it? As an experiment, I looked for the Defense Distributed files elsewhere and was able to find everything the State Department pulled within 5 minutes, on foreign sites outside of US control.

    •  What pleasantly surprised me (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jan4insight, LordMike

      was that a government agency did anything, however ineffective or ill-conceived, to impede the proliferation of guns.

      Today's trivia becomes tomorrow's sacrament.

      by Troubadour on Sun May 12, 2013 at 06:53:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Difference of opinion (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo

        I think if given the choice, I would rather have the government do nothing rather than do something ineffective or ill-conceived. I think the people of Iraq might be in agreement with me on that one.

    •  One could probably do the same sort of search... (0+ / 0-)

      ...for child pornography produced in the USA, but the files of which reside on foreign servers, and come up with the same results, but I don't really want to perform the experiment to find out.

      I'm still OK with banning possession and distribution of said computer files, even if such laws are difficult to enforce.

      As an experiment, I looked for the Defense Distributed files elsewhere and was able to find everything the State Department pulled within 5 minutes, on foreign sites outside of US control.
      •  Not the same (0+ / 0-)

        Child pornography is documenting an activity which is itself a crime. Banning the computer files would be more like banning Nabokov's Lolita.

        I didn't think the liberal position was to grant the government carte blanche to censor individual creative works for national security reasons.

        •  Documenting crimes is not generally a crime. (nt) (0+ / 0-)
          •  Not an answer (0+ / 0-)

            It is going to be hard to produce child pornography without being an accessory to the crime being committed. Since Defense Distributed has a federal license to manufacture firearms and no one there has been arrested, it would seem they are not criminals. Yet.

            Defense Distributed is in the position of having blueprints for a 50-year old rifle part (an AR-15 receiver) considered to be "munitions" that were being illegally exported.

            Either you approve of that sort of ham-handed overbearing government action, or you don't. I don't, no more than I approve of counter-terrorism laws being used to investigate Occupy protesters, secret memos used to justify drone strikes on American citizens or warrantless wiretaps that can't be contested in court.

            •  Because downloading it and printing it off... (0+ / 0-)

              ...is a crime.

              It is going to be hard to produce child pornography without being an accessory to the crime being committed.
              I don't see much difference here.

              It's a rather simple matter to make possession and distribution of such files illegal.

              How are files that contain detailed instructions for a 3D printer to manufacture a weapon any different from files (such as jpg files) that contain detailed instructions for a 2D printer or a computer screen to manufacture an image of child pornography?

              •  Easy (0+ / 0-)

                Ownership of a weapon in this case is not inherently illegal, nor is manufacturing your own. That makes it completely different from child pornography. You need no federal firearms license to legally make your own gun. You only need a license to sell them.

                It's a rather simple matter to make possession and distribution of such files illegal.
                Perhaps you should take this knowledge to the recording and movie industries. I'm sure they would pay you millions for a simple matter that would end the distribution of illegally distributed music and movies.

                Making something "illegal" is a long way from "stopping it from happening". Making it illegal and being unable to enforce it just generates contempt for the law, as the brazenly open torrent sites demonstrate.

                •  Nothing is "inheriently illegal". (0+ / 0-)

                  Including child pornography.

                  I don't even know what it would mean for something to be "inheriently illegal".

                  And nobody has claimed that making child pornography illegal has somehow magically stopped it from being produced and distributed.

                  You are arguing against straw men of your own creation.

          •  Ag-Gag laws do precisely that. n/t (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            dream weaver

            Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

            by Meteor Blades on Sun May 12, 2013 at 07:30:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  You're missing something. (0+ / 0-)

    Which gun parts do manufacturer's make their profits from? Are those parts producible by 3D printers?

    People talk about 3D-printing a gun, but usually what's really 3D-printed is just the firing mechanism. Not the whole gun. Not the barrel. Not the add-ons.

    Manufacturers make most of their profit from add-ons: scopes, laser sights, blah blah. Most add-ons are hard or impossible to make with a 3D printer because they require either multiple materials, or materials that 3D printers don't work with.

    By and large 3D printing is not a threat to manufacturer profits.

    "What could BPossibly go wrong??" -RLMiller "God is just pretend." - eru

    by nosleep4u on Sun May 12, 2013 at 07:46:29 AM PDT

  •  The history of these bans (5+ / 0-)

    In the mid 1990's, Dan Bernstein wrote an encryption program he named "Snuffle".  The program was banned from export as it was determined computer encryption was a "weapon".  Bernstein sued the Feds on the grounds that a computer program was speech and such bans were a violation of free speech.  Eventually, the suit was decided in his favor and encryption programs are no longer banned from export.  

    I don't think this is over, because there are too many similarities between Bernstein's suit and the banning of a program instructing a computer to accomplish a process (in this case, making a firearm).  I'm of the opinion that the author of this program is aware of the history and he has set up the Feds for another court case.  The entire point of this exercise has not been to make a gun but to use the process as a protest of regulation, so the restriction on speech will have to be considered by a court.  I believe he set a trap.

    •  I thought of that very same analogy. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LordMike, jessical

      The inventor of PGP became a target of vindictive justice department attention.  There was a documentary about it.  Pretty awful shit.  The politics of PGP were more important than the encryption itself, and the same may be true of this, because the gun itself is less deadly than ordinary guns.

      Troubadour's right.  The problem with this gun isn't that it can evade metal detectors.  The problem is that it doesn't make Smith and Wesson richer.

    •  Yup... I don't see this ban surviving (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LordMike, jessical

      a court challenge at any level.  

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Sun May 12, 2013 at 10:06:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm not seeing the problem. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo

    Suppose Jared Loughner or Adam Lanza had to print out his own gun? How would that have changed things?
      This is like the moonshine still vs the liquor industry.
       Anybody can make moonshine, but it's just a lot less trouble (and much more socially impressive) to buy whiskey.

  •  I agree 100%. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jan4insight, Troubadour

    I'm more surprised by that than you.  I'll bet you take a lot of flack for this diary.

    I am so sick of the police state status quo which favors the gun industry while at the same time encourages torture and widespread domestic spying on citizens.  This seems to upset that status quo.  People seem to be alarmed that this will make metal detectors obsolete, but I actually see that as a plus.  Fuck the metal detectors.

    "Oh, but they might kill people with those guns!" somebody says.  Really, what difference would that be?  Do you think Newtown would have been more deadly if the killler had used a 3d printed one-bullet gun?

    The whole exercise seems to be more of a political proof of concept than a threat to safety.

  •  is it the whole weapon or just a part? (0+ / 0-)

    one shot, or a military weapon in semi automatic of fullyu automatic firing modes?

    cause I see several people saying opposite things here, and what good is a pie fight when one is frozen mud and the other is a pie plate of steaming 3.1416.

    c'mon people, you are better than this!

    This machine kills Fascists.

    by KenBee on Sun May 12, 2013 at 11:12:42 PM PDT

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