3D-printed guns are back on the market, untraceable, and unstoppable

By Alma Fabiani

Updated May 19, 2020 at 03:28 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

When the first 3D printers appeared, people daydreamed about creating their own furniture, some went as far as 3D-printing whole villages, but very few expected the technology would add to the U.S.’ gun problem—and yet here we are. In 2012, Cody Wilson created Defence Distributed, a 3D-printing gun company, considered by many to be the driving force behind this niche industry. In September 2018, Wilson was arrested and charged with sexual assault against a minor, forcing him to step down from the company.

Defence Distributed ended up dying slowly after that, but not without a bang. The company still has many other ongoing legal battles. Why? Because it uploaded and shared 3D-printed gun blueprints online, enabling anyone who has a 3D printer to own a gun—which is now illegal in the U.S. if the gun is fully made of plastic, making it invisible to metal detectors. Last year, when Defence Distributed was submerged by lawsuits left, right, and centre, everyone—the American government included—eased up. The headquarters were shut down, and the leader put behind bars. What could go wrong now?

What if there was no headquarters, no trademarks, and no real leader? Then the government would be unable to trace back to the gun blueprints. That’s exactly the idea that Defence Distributed’s substitute company had. Named Deterrence Dispensed, it uploads files individually on media-hosting sites underpinned by the LBRY blockchain—meaning decentralised platforms owned by its users. Not only are the members of Deterrence Dispensed not waiting for any government’s approval of their blueprints, but they’re also modifying old ones and offering customers more choice.

In an interview with Wired, a member of the group known as ‘Ivan the Troll’ explained how Deterrence Dispensed is more than a big fuck you to the U.S. government, saying, “Even if there was no government telling me I couldn’t do this, I think that I would still do it. I like spending hours and hours drawing stuff on Computer-Aired Design (CAD).” Ivan the Troll does more than “drawing stuff” though, he creates gun designs, adding to the threat that guns already are in America.

3D-printed guns are made of plastic, meaning they’re also a single-shot, disposable device that really can only be fired once, and if not printed perfectly, could potentially misfire and cause injury to the shooter himself. Printers are starting to experiment with metallic parts, but we’re still far from being able to download a file for any kind of gun and just press a button, and let the printer do its job. That’s exactly the reasoning that pro-gun supporters have, but plastic or not, a gun is still a gun.

Mass shootings, gun-related deaths, terrorist attacks… Do we really need more guns, especially in the U.S.? To support his argument, Ivan mentioned the many police shootings of unarmed black men in America, implying that if you can get shot by the police for no reason, you should also own a gun. But a research from Harvard University shows that where there are more guns, there are more murders—simple as that. Sorry Judge Jeneane.

Apart from Deterrence Dispensed, there are thousands more 3D-printed gun enthusiasts worldwide, doing exactly the same, on a smaller scale. There is no way to stop this file-sharing disease. So where do we go from there? We need to talk about gun violence, and why this can’t be our new normal—in the U.S. or anywhere else. The clear uncertainness that surrounds the gun discussion is what blocks it from going somewhere. Then again, some might argue that guns are not the problem, people are.

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