Skip to main content

3-D printed guns are a boon for criminals

By Christopher J. Ferguson, Special to CNN
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue May 7, 2013
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
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT