3D-printed guns – how much of a threat are they really?

3d-printed-gun-fires_mainPolice are terrified that 3D-printed guns will make their way onto Sydney streets according to The Daily Telegraph.

So how real is this risk? Certainly it’s a pretty simple operation to get hold of the files to print a gun. So if you have a 3D-printer it would not take you long to produce something that would fire a bullet at least once. If you have a 3D-printer.

My own experience suggests that the process of getting up and running with a 3D-printer is not quite as simple as you might think, but neither is it outlandishly difficult. So certainly getting pretty quickly to the point of being able to print a gun is entirely plausible.

But, and here’s the nub of the question for me, why would you do so? Presumably the straightforward answer is that you want an illegal gun. So if we take that as a starting point, the question really becomes is a 3D-printer the easiest way to make an improvised gun. It turns out it probably isn’t.

A gun is not really a complex mechanism. You need something to hold a bullet, something to point the bullet in the right direction and something to strike the bullet to set it off. Search on Google and you’ll quickly find a great many ways of creating a gun out of readily available household goods. A visit to the hardware store would have you spoilt for choice. And putting the pieces together requires little more basic handyman skills and a your average household toolbox.

So why the level of terror from 3D printing? Partly I’m guessing it’s the fear of the new. Maybe some of it is because a 3D-printed gun looks more like a gun than what you get when you combine a nail, the casing from a torch and some gaffer-tape. And partly because it plays to an inchoate fear amongst some parts of e population that all this new technology can only lead to ‘bad things’.

Are the police right to fear 3D-printed guns? Sure, in the same way, they are right to fear any uncontrolled gun. But the sensible response is the one that the police have actually come out with – to point out that, in Australia at least, a gun is a gun is a gun, no matter where you got it from. Our firearms laws apply in exactly the same fashion whether you find a gun in the street, make one in your garage, or print one in your man-cave.

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