Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve heard about the 3-d printing. 3-D printing is supposed to be the next ‘big’ thing in technology, it allows anyone the ability to physically ‘print’ 3-dimensional objects like cups, toy models, even car parts from ABS plastic (that’s the same plastic used to make Lego pieces), in much the same way you print documents on pieces of paper. The great thing about 3-D printing of course is that it’s digital, the files that instruct the printer what to print is a digital file, similar to the word or powerpoint documents you’re probably used to. With that comes all the advantages of digital files, which mean they can be replicated ad infinitum and distributed across the internet for free.
The 3-D printing revolution has already begun, websites have sprouted up online hosting the digital files for printing things like citrus juicers and wine glass holders, all the way to replica models of sports cars and Star Wars spaceships.
But there is one concern. A concern so over-whelming, governments around the world, including ours are looking at 3-D printing with some suspicion. The ability to 3-D print a GUN!
A 3-D printable gun would allow any criminal (or child) to download a file off the internet and print a working weapon all from the comfort of their home. What do we do when technology starts to allow people to endanger lives? Well the answer is, technology has always made it easier to kill people, take your car for example. If you really wanted to kill someone, the best most reasonable way to do it would be to run them down with your car–and then reverse over them just to make sure, do we ban cars just because they can (and often do) kill people?
What’s more this idea that a 3-D printed gun is a clear and present danger is completely over-blown.
If you understood the physics of a gun, you’d know that a fully functional gun isn’t all that likely.
So how does a gun work?
If you’ve ever watched a movie like The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson and set in the American Revolution, you’d know that Gun technology has improved tremendously over the centuries. In the old days, you’d need to load gun powder into a barrel manually, then compress that powder with a stick, then load a bullet, and finally take aim to fire. All of this took time, which explains why mass shootings weren’t really a big thing back in 1700’s, and why the 2nd amendment of the United States (the one that says Bear Arms and militia in the same phrase) is a bit outdated because the founding fathers never envisioned a fully functioning automatic rifle being unloaded in a university campus on innocent children.
What has improved over time, isn’t specifically gun technology, but rather bullet technology. The reason why we don’t need to load gun-powder down the barrel of a handgun these days is that the gun powder comes pre-loaded in the bullet. At the end of the bullet lies a pressure sensitive charge, that when hit at precisely the right way releases a charge that ignites the gun powder and creates the explosion necessary to propel the bullet forward–leaving only the shells to be dropped on the floor.
So a working modern gun requires modern working bullets–something no 3-D printer can currently print, because ABS plastic doesn’t explode like gunpowder.
More importantly, people don’t make bullets from ABS plastic–although I have no doubt, it’s possible.
So why the fuss?
Well if you never truly understood technology you’d more than likely be afraid as well. After all, we could suddenly descend into another America–GASP!
But if you took time to understand the technology you’d know there’s nothing to be afraid of. Here’s some reasons why
1. The most popular 3-D printed gun ‘The Liberator’ still requires working bullets, something not to easily available in Malaysia
2. The 3-D printed gun, still doesn’t have a proper reload mechanism, meaning you can only fire one bullet before you need to re-load not exactly the weapon of choice for hitmen.
3. While 3-D printing makes it easier to print stuff, if someone really wanted a gun, a CAD drawing could still be used to fabricate a gun from metal parts. So this isn’t a new threat, it’s just an extension of an existing threat, one that we’re all comfortably living with.
4. In reality, even bullets can be fabricated and hand-made. After all metal isn’t a controlled item, and gun powder isn’t that hard to come by. So once again, 3-D printers are just extending an existing threat instead of creating a new one.
5. Chances are a 3-D printed gun, wouldn’t fire as well or as accurate as a properly manufactured gun. For now at least, you’re likely to have a clumsy firing weapon, that can’t reload automatically and had a lousy aim. Which would make your 3-D printed gun about as dangerous as a set of kitchen knives–and probably less dangerous than a well sharpened parang, both of which we comfortably live with and can be bought at the local stores.
3-D printing hopes to democratize the manufacturing process in much the same way that making music and videos are now democratized. Its phenomenal, and we shouldn’t be left behind of this phenomenon just because some people are afraid of a couple of guns. Innovation and Technology wait for no man, and we definitely can’t wait for our local MPs to figure this out on their own.