The Wiki Weapon Project has already attracted its fair share of controversy. The project was put on hold earlier this year after its 3D printer was seized by the company they leased it from. Now one Congressman is calling for the renewal of the Undetectable Firearms Act to counter the perceived threat of 3D printed guns.
Over the weekend, Representative Steve Israel alerted Congress to the Wiki Weapon project and correctly states that the men fired six shots from the rifle. He also correctly states that it was an AR-15 rifle assembled with parts from a 3D printer. After that, however, he’s completely off base.
Let’s first take a look at this quote from Rep. Israel at a news conference over the weekend:
“It is just a matter of time before these three-dimensional printers will be able to replicate an entire gun. And that firearm will be able to be brought through this security line, through the metal detector, and because there will be no metal to be detected, firearms will be brought on planes without anyone’s knowledge.”
He’s right. A plastic gun would be able to pass through a metal detector with no problems. The only problem is that a plastic gun is far from being a reality. It’s not a matter of time so much as it is a matter of probability. Rep. Israel neglects to mention that the Wiki Weapon team’s gun broke after the sixth shot because the one piece on the gun that was made of plastic snapped under the pressure.
To further illustrate that Rep. Israel just doesn’t get it – he says that 3D printers are a technology out of “Star Trek.” For one, 3D printers have been around for more than 20 years. It’s not a futuristic technology that’s just suddenly appeared. Secondly, 3D printers don’t just magically make things appear out of thin air like on “The Jetsons.” In reality, it’s just lawmakers continuing their time honored tradition of not understanding technology, and immediately fearing it.
It wasn’t just Rep. Israel spouting nonsense either as the Suffolk County Police Chief, James Burke, said that 3D printers could bring guns to “our children’s bedrooms, in basements and in dorm rooms.” He cites the continued decline in prices as the leading concern because children are obviously going to drop $600 on a cheap 3D printer to make a gun. The Wiki Weapon team is using an advanced industrial 3D printer that costs thousands of dollars to create their parts. The cheap desktop 3D printers can’t use the kind of plastic needed to create the parts that the Wiki Weapon team is making. Even then, the tougher plastics still break upon firing the gun.
For a moment, let’s pretend that Rep. Israel is right. Let’s pretend that 3D printers are about to bring forth the democratization of gun creation, and every child, hobbyist and dog is equipped with a rifle. How would Congress ban 3D printed guns? The only possible way is to ban 3D printers and that would not sit well with anyone considering the technology’s many uses.
In short, it’s next to impossible to stop Wiki Weapon and related projects. Congress can renew the Undetectable Firearms Act, but it can’t do anything to stop development of 3D printed guns without destroying 3D printing. In fact, the greatest threat to 3D printed guns are 3D printers. The technology has proven that it isn’t adequate just yet, and may never be.
As for the Wiki Weapon team, they’re back at the workstation trying out a new material. They say it will provide more flexibility which may preserve the lower for more than six rounds.[h/t: Boing Boing]