The Morality Of Making Guns On A 3D Printer

Gun control

Photo: Getty

By now you’ve probably heard about defence Distributed, a Texas organisation that aims to distribute files for making firearms on professional-grade 3D printers.The group also intends to scale these designs down to the point that they can be printed on cheaper hobbyist printers like MakerBot and Printrbot.

It is currently illegal in the United States to make a weapon that the National Firearms Act would identify as a “firearm” without a tax payment and ATF permission. This stands in stark contrast to what defence Distributed says on its site, maintaining that it’s perfectly legal.

We’re sure people will debate the legalities. We’re more interested in a different question.

How moral is it to give people the means to cheaply manufacture their own real weapons that fire real bullets?

There are those who will argue it’s a moral imperative, that the country’s going to hell in a handbasket and it’s up to us to take it back. This attitude permeates defence Distributed’s website, with lines such as “The firearm has place of pride in underlining an individual’s significance as a moral agent,” and “Firearm rights are human rights.”

This strikes me as a bunch of self-righteous bloviating. Being born doesn’t entitle you to own a gun any more than it entitles you to drive a car—you get to do so after earning a licence. I’ve always thought of them as gun “privileges” instead of gun “rights.”

Lest you think I’m some die-hard lefty, let me be clear—I have no issue with guns. Have you ever fired one? It’s awesome. I totally get the reasons for owning them and using them appropriately.

I think printing your own gun is perfectly fine, no more or less moral than buying a new one. But it’s the act of indiscriminately distributing the plans to do so that seems wrong and dangerous.

If defence Distributed successfully designs a working firearm, it’s been very clear that it will make the plans freely available over the internet to whoever wants them. 3D printers are only getting better and more affordable. Once only available to professionals, they’re now readily available to tinkerers, hobbyists, and dads. Anyone with a 3D printer and some ABS plastic will be able to own a gun regardless of his criminal history or psychological stability. These guns will be unregulated, off the grid, easily copied, and just as easily disposed of.

I’m all for 3D-printed guns, but I’m also for safety. Until defence Distributed can figure out how to be a little more discriminating with who gets the weapon plans, I think the moral thing to do is to hold off.

I can’t help but think that guns don’t need to be more available in the country.

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