The concept of utilizing the rapidly maturing technology of 3-D printing to "print" guns at home, and the implications such technology holds for "gun control," has received a great deal of attention this year (including a fair amount in this column). There is reason to believe, though, that we ain't seen nothing yet.
For one thing, designs have continued to become more ambitious and advanced by the day. J.D. Tuccille, writing for Reason Magazine, notes that there is now a design for a printable semi-automatic pistol (admittedly untested as of yet). More details about the design can be found at DEFCAD, and the design itself can be downloaded here.
As those knowledgeable about firearms may already have surmised, designing the gun to be semi-automatic, as opposed to fully-automatic, was actually an obstacle--fully-automatic firearms are simpler than semi-automatics. Proteus (the forum name of the individual who posted the design at DEFCAD) explains, as quoted by Tuccille:
Separately, Proteus writes, "Fully automatic would actually be EASIER than a semiautomatic to design (open bolt). However... I do not want to do this at this time because of the legal implications. But Fully automatic would be simple to create, including a printed custom FCG [fire control group]." As you might guess from an open forum like the one at DEFCAD, participants take pains to keep their efforts legal within the jurisdictions where they live.
What goes on in quieter developments, elsewhere, is anybody's guess. But if thinking about it makes the control freaks sweat just a little more, so much the better.
So much the better, indeed. Freedom can exist only to the extent that those who presume to impose restrictions on it can be made to live in abject fear.
The more important reason that 2014 could be a big year for 3-D printed guns (and, for that matter, 3-D printing in general) is that patents for far more advanced 3-D printing technology expire that year, almost inevitably leading to an influx of affordable printers with capabilities now available only in machines costing many thousands of dollars. From Quartz:
Here’s what’s holding back 3D printing, the technology that’s supposed to revolutionize manufacturing and countless other industries: patents. In February 2014, key patents that currently prevent competition in the market for the most advanced and functional 3D printers will expire, says Duann Scott, design evangelist at 3D printing company Shapeways.
These patents cover a technology known as “laser sintering,” the lowest-cost 3D printing technology. Because of its high resolution in all three dimensions, laser sintering can produce goods that can be sold as finished products.
Selective laser sintering involves using a laser (obviously) to heat powdered material (which can be plastic, ceramic, or even metal) until the particles are fused into a solid object. It allows for much finer detail than current consumer level printers can manage, not to mention the wider range of materials from which the finished object can be made.
Currently, those who hold the patents for selective laser sintering (SLS) printers can name their price, but as Quartz notes, that is likely to change when the patent expires next February:
Once the key patents on 3D printing via laser sintering expire, we could see huge drop in the price of these devices, says Scott. This isn’t just idle speculation; when the key patents expired on a more primitive form of 3D printing, known as fused deposition modeling, the result was an explosion of open-source FDM printers that eventually led to iconic home and hobbyist 3D printer manufacturer Makerbot.
The article goes on to note that China appears poised to seize this market (as they have seized just about every other market), resulting in, as the article puts it, "a flood of Chinese printers."
Ah--the delicious irony of China, of all places, being the source of Americans' and others' means of throwing off the chains of forcible citizen disarmament tyranny. The "government monopoly on force," so beloved of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (and Democrat New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler) is dying, and "progressive" China is helping to pull the plug.