Yesterday when I saw the picture of the first fully 3D printed gun (I realize the firing pin is a nail and was not printed) I almost wept for joy. This is a first important step away from the dominance of the state over their citizens in many parts of the world. Americans enjoy the protection of Second Amendment, but many places that purport to be free countries have banned all guns outright or have made ownership so restrictive that getting a firearm is almost impossible. Other parts of the world are not so free as even that. Firearm ownership for people in places like China or North Korea could mean the death penalty. This new technology makes it possible for anyone anywhere with access to a certain level of technology to take the power of the state and place it into the hands of the people. The 3D printed gun is either the beginning of the end to those repressive regimes or the beginning of one of the largest and most sweeping crack down on civil rights in the past fifty years.
The argument to restrict these rights will not be over firearms. Oh, guns and violence will be used as an excuse, but the argument will be over the right to freedom of speech and expression. This 3D printed weapon and each subsequent generation of it is a triumph of information technology. It has been made possible by the revolution in information sharing that has taken place in the last thirty years and in the ease and ability to pass information about technology freely between people. This ability of information to be exchanged will become a battleground and the government’s goal will be limiting the freedom of speech. This goal will at first be packages as only limiting information that the state finds dangerous, but it is the ultimate slippery slope. Never underestimate the willingness of government to push its subjects down that hill.
The battle lines are already being drawn and in the United States. Don’t immediately expect the Republicans to side with freedom. They have often been much more willing to censor information available to the public than the Democrats (although Obama has certainly given them a run for their money). Both sides will ultimately unite against 3D printed weapons. This is a prediction you can take to the bank. You can expect them to see this in more broad-reaching terms than just firearms. If either side can convince the public that this information is too dangerous to be allowed to freely be passed from hand to hand, and they are able to limit it, then expect them to broaden the definition of what is dangerous over time. Enjoy your internet while you have it. The government has long been trying to find an issue that resonates with the public so they can use it to limit information on the web. The public is also likely to fall for any and all scare tactics the government decides to employ.
The good news is they will not win. This is a genie that will not go back into the bottle easily. This is a Manhattan project level event in terms of personal self defense and the ability of a people to arm themselves. This simple one shot pistol is just the tip of the iceberg. In the long run there is just about no small arm that can’t eventually be build with a 3D printer. One might equip an entire army with a combination of plastic and metal printers. I foresee a day not too far off in which our own military will print their weapons as they need them…that is the future reality. We are living in an exciting time. This must be similar to what it felt like to those first peasants in Western Europe that figured out that firearms made them equal in power to the most well armored knight. The day we moved from the strangle hold of feudalism to just a hint of representative republic. It is not something to scorn. This is a technology that embraces freedom and puts power back into the hands of the people. How many police state Nazi bullies would have had second thoughts about dragging the Jews out of their homes had they known that the citizens of the Warsaw Ghetto had armed themselves and would resist? How different would the civil rights movement have been had blacks in the South had access to quick cheap 3D printed guns to defend themselves from corrupt local sheriffs? Would there have even been a need for a civil rights movement at all?
The government can try to stop it. They can shut down the internet at the risk of global economic collapse, or they can try to limit the spread of this information in other ways. If they think that people can’t find a way around any restriction the government tries to put into place to limit data….then they don’t know much about computers or those that program them. They will also try to restrict the physical 3D printers, but even that is folly. They might slow down the growth (don’t bet on it), but the technology is far to useful to be stifled for long. It is also a technology that will eventual be able to replicate itself fully. That technology is still in its infancy, especially when it comes to the metal and computer parts, but it will not be long before even that hurdle is overcome. 3D printing is the future and it is going to change the world in ways that the government and those who want control can’t even yet imagine. I often quote this line from the movie Serenity, “You can’t stop the signal.” So why even try.