One of the big questions that the entire Utopian 3D printing community doesn’t particularly care to discuss is the fact that inevitably, somebody’s going to print out something dangerous and kill someone else or themselves with it.
Seriously. It’s going to happen. As optimistic as I am about 3D printing to substantially change pretty much everything about the human experience, and sooner than we think, I’m also not delusional enough to think nobody will ever look at this thing and think “I could print out a knife and totally stab my neighbor with this thing and the cops will never trace it back to me!” I’m a little amazed it’s not a CSI plotline already.
One of the people trying to hand hack TV writers yet another gimmick is Defense Distributed. Their dream is to design and open-source the 3D printing of firearms, but they’ve suffered a setback: The company that rented them a 3D printer revoked their lease.
As Wired more politely puts it:
… last Wednesday, less than a week after receiving the printer, Wilson received an e-mail from Stratasys: The company wanted its printer returned. Wilson wrote back, and said he believed using the printer to manufacture a firearm would not break federal laws regarding at-home weapons manufacturing. For one, the gun wouldn’t be for sale. Wilson added that he didn’t have a firearms manufacturers license.
Stratasys’s legal counsel wrote back: “It is the policy of Stratasys not to knowingly allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes. Therefore, please be advised that your lease of the Stratasys uPrint SE is cancelled at this time and Stratasys is making arrangements to pick up the printer.”
Roughly translated from the legalese: “When the larger media finally catches up with you people, we don’t want to be in the middle of that firestorm.”
Defense Distributed is angry and reasonably so. They’re on completely legal ground according to the federal government. You can make your own guns if you want under the Second Amendment, you just can’t sell them, something Defense Distributed is very clear it has no plans to do (and you can legally sell the plans to build guns anyway, so really, moot point). So far the Justice Department has shown profound apathy towards this idea.
Furthermore they were only working on the proof of concept. If they had managed to print a gun and it didn’t just explode, even the most optimistic think that the barrel would have melted after one shot. This is just to show that you can do it, really, pretty much the driving force behind all nerdy pastimes.
On the other hand, as you can tell from their amusingly defensive FAQ, even they know that some idiot is eventually going to print out a gun and try to rob a bank with it. So you do find yourself wondering what they were expecting, exactly.