Should free-speech gun advocate Cody Wilson be able to provide you with shape files and instructions to create a 3D-printed plastic gun? That’s a question that forces freedom-loving people to think hard about which freedoms they support.
Wilson and his company Defense Distributed sued the government, which was blocking his plan to put the gun blueprints into an online database. The Federal government reached a settlement to allow Wilson to upload the plans and more than 1,000 people downloaded them. But yesterday, after lawsuits by several states, a judge temporarily blocked the site.
To create these guns, you can use a affordable 3D printer to print parts from plastic, then assemble them based on instructions that come with the blueprints. In theory, the plans could include any sort of weapon, including a fully automatic machine gun. For the gun to be lethal, of course, you still need regular metal bullets.
Plastic guns are problematic for several reasons. They pass undetected through metal detectors (a key plot point in the movie “In the Line of Fire,” in which John Malkovich attempts to assassinate the president with a plastic gun). They have no serial numbers. Since you download and assemble them yourself, there is no record of a gun sale, and no background check. It’s not clear whether such a gun would leave unique forensic traces on the bullet, allowing police to match bullets to guns. But guns like this would be so cheap that after committing a crime, you’d probably just throw the gun away and print another one.
Are you for or against downloadable gun plans?
Most liberals are advocates of free speech. The idea of restricting what information is available online — of making certain online content illegal — seems offensive. But if you don’t like the idea of cheap, freely available, untraceable, hard-to-detect plastic guns in the hands of criminals, you probably object to the idea of gun plan downloads.
Conservative gun advocates may have a harder time defending these guns. If you want a gun for self defense, a regular metal gun made by a quality manufacturer is a better bet. By virtue of being untraceable, cheap, and disposable, plastic guns are clearly better suited for crime than self-defense or hunting. And if you are a gun owner in favor of responsible regulation including background checks and restrictions on fully automatic weapons, how can you take a position in favor of guns like this?
I wondered where the NRA would come down on this. It’s not clear that gun owners are in favor of these guns, but I’d bet that gun manufacturers are against them. Why encourage competition for your product from make-it-yourself cheap, plastic guns? But surprisingly, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch rails against 3D printed gun restrictions, calling attempts to regulate the technology “absolutely unenforceable” and labelling these guns “what the rest of us call freedom and innovation.”
Wondering where our president, a gun advocate, comes down in this debate? He’s not sure yet.
I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2018
Is regulating gun plans practical?
It’s not so easy to block content on the Internet.
Right now, Google points you easily to the Defense Distributed site and DEFCAD, which is where the free gun plans will appear if it prevails in its lawsuit. But what will happen if the government bans the plans?
Defense Distributed, or someone else, will register a site in another country and put plans there. You’ll be able to access it from anywhere, just like any other site.
Google may block that site from appearing in searches, as it does with banned content in some other countries. But other gun enthusiast sites will link to the 3D plans, and as a result, you won’t have much trouble finding them.
Of course, there are more intrusive ways to block content.
You could insist that browsers don’t show it.
You could make possession of such plans illegal.
You could insist that bullet designers create bullets that won’t fire in a plastic gun.
You could require that 3D printers check all plans before printing to determine if they are banned or illegal. (Is it possible to make a shape illegal?)
If you think that you can block people from accessing and using this content, how would you do that without putting onerous restrictions on the usability of the internet?
I don’t like the idea of untraceable guns. But I’m not a fan of breaking the internet to stop them.
What do you think? If you’ve got a workable plan — or a reason for why such a ban is wrong in the first place — I’d love to hear it.