Possession of unauthorized weapons manufactured by 3D printers abounds in high risks. The 3-D printing technology has existed since the early 1880s. However, the technology revolved exponentially during the last few years and has attracted attention due to its capability to print virtually everything. Whereas 3D technology can be leveraged to impact humanity positively, for example, in the health sector, the ability of the technology to make firearms has created an ethical conundrum. Thanks to 3D printing, the general public will soon be able to transform digital files into firearms effortlessly. Whereas it is legal for individuals to own guns in the U.S., 3D technology establishes a phenomenon where unqualified, or ill-intentioned individuals and manufactures could bypass current federal and state laws on guns and make untraceable and undocumented weapons that could pose indescribable danger to the community. In light of the foregoing facts, the use of 3D printing technology to make firearms should be resisted and eventually banned.
Overview of 3D Printing Technology
3D printing technology has existed for years but it has grown in sophistication recently. Solid objects with various innovative designs can be produced with the help of a 3D printer and digital files downloaded from the Internet or at an individuals home. It is necessary to create a design through a computer aided design or animation program to make an object on a 3D printer (Dudek, 2013).The program makes blueprint of the needed item and demarcates it into several digital cross sections so that the 3D printer can construct it. The 3D printing machine constructs the object, using an additive process. In this process, a three dimensional device is created by setting down successive layers of material, which could be metal, rubber, plastic, or paper. Using the design previously created by a computer program, the printer transfers the material by passing it over a platform, depositing a layer on top of another layer in order to make the final product by cutting the material into an identified shape (Dudek, 2013).
Development of 3D Printed Weapons
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Even though 3D printing technology was leveraged in the past to make 3D objects for various sectors, including construction and health, making a functional 3D printed firearm seemed to be an illusion for a long time. However, recreational guns fanatics have already manufactured guns, using 3D printers and the worst thing is that they have uploaded the blueprint files used to make these guns and these files are available online. In May 2013, Cody Wilson, the founder of a non-profit organization Defense Distributed, uploaded on its website a video of successful test shootings of a 3Dprinted handgun and the digital files containing the design of the functional 3D printed gun dubbed the liberator. The gun was plastic. Since the liberator masterpiece, several functional firearms manufactured through 3D printing technology have emerged (Bagot, 2016).
As the technology becomes more sophisticated, designers are seeking to produce stronger and more durable 3D weapons. For example, in November 2013, a group identified as Solid Concepts released a 3D handgun made from metal parts, thus, making the gun capable of firing repeatedly (Gilger, 2016). In 2014, a machine expert from Pennsylvania issued plans for a plastic 3D printed gun with a bullet chamber crafted to survive multiple rounds of firing without breaking down or deforming (Gilger, 2016). While 3D technology is not yet perfect as far as 3D printed weapons are concerned, recent developments show a glimmer of what may exist in the near future. A successful production of a functional 3D printed weapon presents an ethical quagmire as it is apparent that this technology can be used to harm people.
Arguments Against 3D Printed Weapons
The production of 3D printed weapons should be outlawed because it threatens to circumvent and render useless current laws on gun control, and too many risks underlie illegal or unauthorized possession of weapons. According to the current federal law, every individual or firm selling firearms has to be licensed. Firearms contain unique serial numbers and it is compulsory to register them by local authorities (Enderle & Murphy, 2015). Furthermore, an individual purchasing a firearm has to meet specific requirements for eligibility. For example, the individual cannot be a convicted criminal, and has to submit papers about their personality background before they can successfully purchase the firearm (Enderle & Murphy, 2015). However, it is perfectly legal to make and possess a firearm provided it is intended to be used solely for self-defense rather than for sale. In such a case, the individual does not have to obtain a license to make a firearm, and it also does not need to be registered (Enderle & Murphy, 2015). However, there are other laws that restrict the kinds of firearms that can be manufactured at home for personal use. Machine guns, rifles, shotguns with barrels of less than 18 inches, and silencers must be registered under the Firearms Act (Enderle & Murphy, 2015).
As things stand, criminals and people who cannot pass a background check to obtain high powered firearms are already using the loophole that allows people to casually make guns at home. There is strong evidence for this. In 2015, 4 California residents were charged with illegal manufacturing and trafficking of more than 50 guns. Some of the guns were made from parts purchased legally under the pretense they were to be employed for personal use (Alissa, 2015). These firearms were most likely sold without background checks. The preceding arguments show that the aforementioned gap in the law only exacerbates the dangers posed to the community by 3D printed firearms.
The market for 3D printers has lately expanded and large sale volumes of 3D printers are now being recorded. Sales are expected to increase further in future as prices for 3D printers are expected to drop (Kinsley, Brooks & Owens, 2014). This development implies that any person, irrespective of the fact whether they are qualified to possess a gun, will be able to easily make an in-home gun without the need to adhere to current federal and state laws on guns. The individual would not have to undergo the process of licensing, registration, or a background check to own a gun, just a 3D printing machine and access to the Internet. Criminals may also take advantage of the efficiency of 3D printers and manufacture 3D firearms on a large scale and sell them without obeying the laws on gun sale.
When 3D made weapons are used to commit a murder or perpetrate other crimes, an ethical dilemma arises on whether to put the blame on the 3D printing manufacturer or the user who misused the technology. Therefore, criminalization of 3D printed guns should be expedited in order to forestall the peril they pose to the society when the 3D printing technology becomes fully fledged and prices of 3D printers fall to such an extent that it would be possible for an average American to own a 3D printer. If anyone can buy a 3D printer, download a digital file, and then manufacture functional firearms without problems, the government, which is charged with gun control, will find it hard to implement its mandate.
The manufacturing of 3D printed guns should be outlawed because such guns may be untraceable. So far, 3D firearms have been made of plastic, which means that anyone can easily pass the gun through security checks undetectably. The clear and present danger posed by undetectable firearms is immense, and legislators foresaw this danger when they enacted the Undetectable Firearms Act, which first came into force in 1988. Since then, the law has been ratified incrementally and its applicability was extended for a further 10-year-period in 2013(Curtis, 2015). However, 3D printed firearms would easily bend this Act. The Act makes it unlawful for anyone to manufacture, sell, ship, transfer import, receive, or possess a firearm that would go undetectable through metal detectors at the airport. As manufacturers often use plastic materials to make firearms, the Act requires that a plastic firearm devoid of a grip, magazine, and stocks has an X-ray signal for detection. According to the Act, it is also illegal to manufacture or sell a firearm that that does not bear the image of a firearm (Curtis, 2015).
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In point of fact, the Undetectable Firearm Acts provisions were meant to protect the society from the risks of undetectable weapons. However, 3D printed weapons are capable of circumventing the law. even though most of them are made of plastic, there is a myriad of 3D-printed firearm plans that incorporate an easily detachable X-ray detectable metal that would still enable the firearms to go undetected (Curtis, 2015). Furthermore, home-made 3D printed firearms do not require licensing or registration; it will be hard to know precisely how many such guns are in circulation. The inability to monitor such firearms intensifies the risk of their use to commit crimes (Curtis, 2015). Thus, despite the fact that there is the Undetectable Firearms Act, 3D printed weapons would still be dangerous to the society, and hence a complete ban on manufacturing them is warranted.
Proponents of 3D printed weapons argue that the weapons can be used to reduce crimes. This argument might seem valid, considering provisions of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Act states that in case of a properly controlled militia that is necessary to the security of liberal state, the right of individuals to keep and bear arms shall not be interfered with. This statement means that the Americans are constitutionally protected to possess guns for personal safety (Enderle, & Murphy, 2015).
The position of the Constitution is reasonable to some extent, which aims at ensuring safety for the citizens. However, 3D printed guns are not the kind of weapons that may help to enhance individual safety or reduce crimes. If the focal point of the argument in favor of 3D printed weapons is personal safety or crime reduction, it is obvious that there are other less risky methods of protecting oneself or reducing crime rates in general. Individuals who feel the need to possess a gun for own safety can follow the due legal procedure and purchase one from a licensed gun seller. In fact, firearms bought at a store would be cheaper and more functional that equivalent 3D printed firearms (Freiberg, 2015).The bottom line here is not really 3D printed guns but rather the danger created by the manner in which the technology is being recklessly distributed on the Internet. Anyone anywhere in the world can illegally make guns with a 3D printing machine with minimum skills and knowledge.
Further on claims that 3D printed weapons can be used to enhance safety and reduce crimes, legalizing the use of the technology would actually cause an unprecedented rise in crimes not only in the United States but also in the whole world. First, in some countries, powerful crime syndicates, which may operate under the umbrella of legal organizations with their own headquarters and logos to conceal their criminal activities, would find it easier to print fire-arms instead of smuggling them (Bagot,2016). Second, there are also fears that terrorist groups such as Islamic State could soon use 3D printing technology to make guns at a mere cost of ?100, putting at risk the safety of millions of people by simply mastering the skills of crypto anarchists and gun fanatics such as Defense Distributed that expressed their intentions to make the technology available to the whole world regardless of the fact that the weapons may fall in the hands of terror groups (Bagot, 2016).
There is a need to devise methods to limit the security risk expected from the advancement of using 3D technology to manufacture weapons. The major responsibility lies with the government and legislators. First of all, the U.S. government should issue an ordinance to remove and restrict further uploading of blueprints of 3D printed firearms on the Internet. To allow the government to issue the aforementioned ordinance without risking litigations for violating the freedom of speech (online sharing of files), the federal government has already taken measures to modify the regulations on international traffic and arms. Second of all, one of the amendments proposes to put restrictions on the kind of gear information and technology that cannot legally be exported outside the United States and also impose a ban on posting schemes of parts of 3D printed firearm on the Internet (Fox News, 2015).
The Congress should also formulate a law that will make it illegal to manufacture, possess, or transfer 3D printed weapons. The legislation should also enforce severe penalties for violating the legal provisions in view of the high risks of security invasion created by the weapons. The penalties should be more severe for any criminal use of 3D printed weapons. Another possible legislation would be a ban on all firearms whose major components are not detectable. Such legislation would definitely outlaw most 3D printed firearms.
Another proactive measure should focus on the sale of 3D printers capable of making firearms. This move is necessary because prices for high-powered 3D printers are anticipated to fall. Increased affordability of 3D printing machines means that virtually everyone will potentially be able to make a 3D printed weapon. As a preventive measure, all 3D printer vendors should be required to have in place a sophisticated system to track down the use of every sold 3D printing machine (Freiberg, 2015). The vendors should also adopt a self-regulatory standard under which they would sell selectively, for example, by screening the purchasers of 3D printers in order to prevent the machines from landing in the hands of parties with ill intentions. In addition, all 3D printer manufacturers should be required by law to register all the machines they sell by state or local law enforcement authorities.
Various gun control groups such as the Brady Campaign, Every-town for Gun Safety, Violence Policy Center, and New Yorkers against Gun Violence have been on the forefront, advocating for enactment of policies to control making of 3D printed firearms, especially on the grounds that they are largely undetectable and untraceable. These groups are in support of the State Department, which has also launched concerted efforts to keep 3D printed guns away from wrong people. At one point, it ordered Defense Distributed to wipe out blue prints for 3D printed guns on the Internet (Brady Campaign, 2016).
3D printed weapons give rise to numerous ethical issues. With 3D printing technology becoming cheaper and easily available, and blueprints for making 3D weapons being accessible on the Internet, individuals will be able to make functional firearms without the need to undergo the legal process for acquiring firearms. What is worse, most three 3D guns are made of plastic and other materials that can bypass security checks. Furthermore, traceability of 3D printed weapons would be hard, thus increasing the risk of the firearms being used to commit crimes, leaving any traces. To address these risks, there is a need to ban manufacturing, possession, or transfer of 3D printed weapons, and also online transfer of blueprint files for making such weapons. Severe penalties should also be introduced to deter violation of the legal provisions. In addition, 3D printer makers should adopt systems to track the use of any sold 3D machine as well as subject purchasers to suitability verification processes. These measures should sufficiently mitigate the possibility of using 3D printed weapons for criminal and terror activities.