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The 3-D Printed Gun and the Danger of Ideas

May 7, 2013
Even before Cody Wilson posted the files for his 3-D printed gun, the project had launched a hailstorm of criticism and condemnation from lawmakers, gun control activists and the greater 3-D printing community — and for good reason.

It’s a sad day for additive manufacturing.

Last night, Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Texas, posted the files to create a nearly 100% 3-D printed gun.

Even before the files were posted, Wilson’s project had launched a hailstorm of criticism and condemnation from lawmakers, gun control activists and the greater 3-D printing community — and for good reason.

Though the plans do suggest including a superfluous piece of steel to satisfy the requirements of the undetectable firearms laws, skipping that step will produce the first concealable, undetectable and unregistered firearm widely available to the public since regulations began. Which is an intimidating proposition, to say the least.

The Defense Distributed "Liberator" is a single shot, .380-caliber gun constructed entirely of 3-D printed plastic, save its small firing pin. PHOTO: FORBES

Of course, we can expect Wilson’s gun and his company, Defense Distributed, to be shut down in short order — hopefully before someone blows their hand off — but the ordeal means difficult times ahead for additive manufacturing.

The era of free exchange of ideas and innovation for 3-D printing is, for the moment at least, over.

With Wilson’s post, he has brought additive manufacturing squarely into the sights of regulatory agents, proving that 3-D printing needs to be scrutinized and carefully controlled to ensure the safety of its users and the public around them.

Wilson’s gun has told the world just how dangerous the free exchange of ideas can be.

Of course, this had to happen eventually. It happens with every new industry, every new technology, every new idea. It’s a rite of passage for a maturing industry.

Applications of technology proceed from inception like a stampede trampling blindly ahead, regardless of the terrain. Every use, good or bad, along that trajectory will be explored, must be explored, to maintain its forward momentum. It’s the story of technology.

In its time, the car brought the world new mobility and opportunity, along with smog and countless deaths and injuries. Later, the Internet brought knowledge and literacy across the world, transforming the lives of billions, while also making them targets of cyberterrorism.

And now 3-D printing has its turn — the technology that could revolutionize manufacturing, that could bring a new generation back to the factory and really get this renaissance rolling can now be used to kill people.

And that’s a sad day indeed.

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