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1st Amendment + 2nd Amendment = The Right to Print Arms

 

For the unaware, one of the greatest potential disruptors for entire swaths of the global economy over the next decade is 3D printing. From Wikipedia:

3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printers are generally faster, more affordable and easier to use than other additive manufacturing technologies. 3D printers offer product developers the ability to print parts and assemblies made of several materials with different mechanical and physical properties in a single build process. Advanced 3D printing technologies yield models that can serve as product prototypes.

Since 2003 there has been large growth in the sale of 3D printers. Additionally, the cost of 3D printers has declined. The technology also finds use in the fields of jewelry, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information systems, civil engineering, and many others.

Here’s a brief video showing 3D printing at work:

High end printers like the one seen in the video range in price from $20,000 to $40,000 but prices are falling fast. Consumer models are on the way as well. One company, Origo, is coming out with a sub-$1000 printer aimed at 10-year olds. And while 3D printers are limited to certain types of plastic at the moment, companies are racing to develop printers that can print in a multitude of materials. In ten years, if your staple remover breaks, it’s likely that you’ll be able to just print a new one.

Of course, like most new, geeky technologies, a hobbyist culture has already sprung up online offering all sorts of designs that people can download and print to their heart’s content. Thingiverse is one such hobbyist website. A Thingiverse user, KingLudd, recently posted a design that begs the question:

What Will the Law Do When You Can Print Guns At Home?

See AR-15 designs here and here.

From the description of the lower receiver:

For those unfamiliar with the American cult-of-the-firearm, an AR-15 is a popular semi-automatic rifle that can easily be purchased by well-behaved citizens in the United States. Enthusiasts are drawn to it because it is nicely engineered, reliable, versatile, highly modular, and good for many legitimate civilian uses.

The Lower Receiver is the frame that holds together all the other pieces of the firearm. In the States, all the other pieces can be purchased without a permit – over the counter or through the post. The Lower Receiver is the only part which requires a background check or any other kind of paperwork before purchase.

Uh oh. Now anyone with a computer, internet connection, and a 3D printer can circumvent any sort of government regulation or background check in relation to an AR-15. Not in some distant theoretical future, but right now.

What happens? Make it illegal to own gun designs? Regulate that 3D printer manufacturers build/code in limits to prevent the printing of weapons?  Would it be illegal for me to merely link to such a gun design? (Akin to the DeCSS debacle of the 90s)

How will it take the law to catch up with technology this time around?

See here for a brief primer on the law in relation to manufacturing your own firearms as it exists today.

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Seen at Boing Boing.

Headline borrowed from Just_Ok in the Boing Boing comments thread.

 

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About Keith Lee

I'm the founder and editor of Associate's Mind. I like to write, talk, and think about law, professional development, technology, and whatever else floats my boat. I practice law in Birmingham, AL.

5 comments

  1. I just assume that this technology would fall under existing regulations regarding gun assembly as producing functional firearms willy-nilly aren’t rights protected by the first amendment or the second. I think the Court would agree, and find that the 1st amendment right to “freedom of the press” applies to the expression of ideas and mediums necessary to convey those ideas, not the unlimited right to create functional weapons. The basic and legally relevant concept of a machine that forges new copies of objects from raw materials has been around for thousands of years in the forms of molds and cast-iron die technology. The fact that these new machines are less expensive and more versatile doesn’t seem to put them into uncharted territory. A prohibition on possessing or distributing the files or plans for firearms not under copyright would probably violate the first amendment.

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