Skip to main content

3-D printed guns are a boon for criminals

By Christopher J. Ferguson, Special to CNN
May 7, 2013 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Defense Distributed, a Texas nonprofit group, posted a YouTube video it says shows the first live firing of a handgun entirely created with a 3-D printer. Defense Distributed, a Texas nonprofit group, posted a YouTube video it says shows the first live firing of a handgun entirely created with a 3-D printer.
HIDE CAPTION
Inside a 3-D printed gun
Inside a 3-D printed gun
Inside a 3-D printed gun
Inside a 3-D printed gun
Inside a 3-D printed gun
Inside a 3-D printed gun
Inside a 3-D printed gun
Inside a 3-D printed gun
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A group used 3-D printer to make a plastic handgun that can fire a real bullet
  • Christopher Ferguson: The ramifications of such a weapon are potentially profound
  • He says if a criminal can't pass a background check, he can just print his own gun at home
  • Ferguson: How will government regulate these workable and untraceable guns?

Editor's note: Christopher J. Ferguson is chair of the psychology and communication department at Texas A&M International University. He is the author of the novel "Suicide Kings."

(CNN) -- For those out there worried that our nation's stern gun laws were keeping firearms out of the hands of too many people, the solution appears to have arrived: the printable gun.

Produced by a nonprofit organization called Defense Distributed, this small plastic gun, dubbed the "Liberator," has been tested and is able to fire a bullet in a video demo. Assuming this is no crazy hoax, the ramifications of such a weapon for gun control are potentially profound.

I can't imagine that too many people with rational minds think printable guns will add to the serenity of the world. Granted, 3-D printers aren't yet a household item, but as technology improves and becomes less expensive, they may become common.

Christopher J. Ferguson
Christopher J. Ferguson

Although the "Liberator" appears unreliable, tending to fragment after a few shots, subsequent models will likely improve. Either way, it's a workable and untraceable gun.

Open source guru Eric Raymond has said, "I approve of any development that makes it more difficult for governments and criminals to monopolize the use of force." The development of the printable gun seems to be particularly popular with the ultra-libertarian crowd. The founder of Defense Distributed apparently describes himself as a crypto-anarchist.

It's difficult to envision a situation in which a law-abiding homeowner prints a gun for self-defense. Sure, a few people may print the darn things for the novelty of it. But the printable gun, assuming it moves forward unregulated, would be the obvious realm of the criminal.

Can't pass a background check? No need to take your chances, such as they are, at a gun show anymore. Just print out your weapon from home! As only the firing pin is metal (a household nail), I can only imagine the nightmare of trying to detect these things.

CNN Explains: 3-D printing

Most homicides are impulsive, not the cold calculated affairs of Agatha Christie novels. Would enraged individuals without a gun be able to print one of these in response to some perceived slight? Yes, they'd have to go buy a bullet (and a nail), but it's still a way around a background check.

This scenario seems foolish only because it's already so easy to get a real gun. There are approximately 300 million guns in the United States. If we want to reduce the number of homicides (or suicides for that matter), making it difficult to get immediate access to guns can help reduce impulsive behaviors. Allowing people to print their own gun is just the opposite.

Beyond a doubt, calmer heads will want to regulate these things. I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect this is one example in which technology may have raced ahead of the law. Is Defense Distributed selling guns or information? Is this a gun control issue or a First Amendment issue? Can the printers be regulated to refuse to print weapons, or could new designs simply circumvent existing prohibited products?

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, has expressed interest in legislation to block printable guns , so we'll see where it leads. As he puts it, "We're facing a situation where anyone -- a felon, a terrorist -- can open a gun factory in their garage and the weapons they make will be undetectable. It's stomach-churning." It seems that way.

Don't get me wrong. I'm probably about as neutral as anyone can be on the issue of gun control. I believe law abiding citizens have constitutional rights to own weapons. But at the same time I believe in reasonable safeguards to make sure access to firearms is limited from criminals and those with chronic mental illnesses.

In this sense, to me, printable guns are a step in the wrong direction. Granted, the actual impact of printable guns on societal violence is obviously unknown. Perhaps they'll remain so unreliable or difficult to assemble from the individual pieces that the impact will be negligible. Or perhaps not.

Some have described Defense Distributed's efforts as a kind of political performance art. Very funny, Defense Distributed. We get it. I just hope we don't regret it.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Christopher J. Ferguson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT