SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) - The first 3D-printed gun to function in public is raising concerns, but its design and the freedom of the data that allows anyone to make one is the real tech story behind the headlines.
The controversy over the video showing what appears to be the firing of the first printed plastic gun is focused on the gun itself: Many are concerned about it either being plastic, and undetectable, or opening the floodgates to a proliferation of uncontrolled weapons.
In fact, the gun in question has a six-ounce piece of metal in it to make sure it is detectable and conforms to federal law in that respect. That, of course, was voluntary on the part of the maker.
As for this opening the floodgate of undocumented weapons, that seems unlikely as the cost of the 3D printer and the time and expertise needed to use it are far more difficult than just stealing a gun.
What is in fact the most interesting part of this story is the complex CAD file that is fed to a 3D printer so that it can make something, in this case a gun. Those files are the choke point in 3D printing: Few people have the skills to develop them, and every 3D printer needs them to operate.
Which turns the discussion of home printed guns from one that is about plastic or proliferation and instead about the freedom of information and what limits on it are appropriate.
The law and law enforcement are well behind the technology on this issue, though new legislation has already been introduced to ban undetectable guns made via this process. In effect, however, the law may have to go after the sharing of plans to make them which moves it from being a gun control measure to, at least partly, a freedom of information and free speech issue.
For now, at least, 3D printers hold no promise of creating a proliferation of cheaper, easier to obtain guns. But this technology does clearly offer the potential to create an undetectable gun from freely shared plans that require only a 3D printer to work from, and those will only come down in price and go up in sophistication.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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