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.
Amid growing restrictions of women’s rights policies in Western democracies, moves made by ‘women’s rights’ organisations to shut down strip and lap dancing clubs around the U.K. are exposing the dangers of allowing exclusionary campaigns to influence local government policy. Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEV) licensing legislation differs throughout the U.K., but many local authorities are pressured by anti-stripping campaigns (under the general title of SWEFT, sex worker exclusionary radical feminism) to give way to the Nordic Model.
This model, some feminists argue, protects women from violence and poverty by criminalising those purchasing sex, rather than sex workers, and banning strip clubs allegedly increasing demand for this. Yet, in Ireland, the introduction of Nordic-style legislation with the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 has since seen increased crime and abuse reported by users of sex worker safety app, UglyMugs.ie, and the recent criminalisation of two vulnerable migrant female sex workers in Kildare, who were sentenced to nine months in prison. Many are quick to report on such matters as the latest schism in modern feminist thought, with an unbridled scepticism reserved for strippers’ views and lived experiences.
Comparatively few, however, seem as concerned with the hypocritical ethos of influential anti-sex work campaigners, as their refusal to engage with or ever set foot inside their workplaces compounds a willingness to overlook the autonomy and safety of dancers. One such group, Not Buying It, was revealed to have paid for male private investigators to enter Sheffield’s Spearmint Rhino and film dancers working semi or fully nude without their knowledge earlier this year. Apparently left with “no choice” but to resort to “drastic measures” to get the club’s SEV license revoked, Not Buying It, with Women’s Equality Party (WEP) Sheffield branch leader, Charlotte Mead, presented this to Sheffield City Council as evidence that a Nordic style ‘nil-cap’ policy on SEVs be should enforced.
Although the WEP has since declared it was not part of the sting, it nevertheless teamed up with the campaign to present footage drawing parallels to revenge porn as a misogynistic method used to intimidate, harass, and manipulate women. The argument that such tactics have any place in a feminist struggle against patriarchal oppression is an undoubtedly alarming one. A feminist trade-union representing sex workers alongside migrant, low-paid, and vulnerable workers, United Voices of the World, attested to this in its statement aligning the ‘harmful’ actions to the WEP’s “misguided campaign to abolish strip clubs for the imagined benefit of the women involved”.
Teela Sanders, Professor of Criminology at the University of Leicester and researcher on stripping and sex work, asserts that “other feminists doing this to women […] is as damaging as the misogynist policies found in other labour environments that the women’s movement has been working so hard against”. In turn, Sanders locates the “harmful speech, influence and actions by so-called women’s organisations” as reflecting a wider trend: “We see across the globe the stripping back of rights for women, most recently in the abortion laws in the U.S. What we see in the U.K. is feminist organisations attacking other women for the work they choose, under a range of circumstances and real-life options, to make a living from”.
Those campaigning for strip and lap dancing club closures insist strippers are treated solely as ‘sex objects’, that the choice of women to work in SEVs is mere ‘myth’ or illusion, and that these women are either victims or in denial of their circumstance. This “cowardly” approach, declares Sanders, whereby “sex workers, marginalised, stigmatised and sometimes vulnerable, are denied platforms to rebut claims of victimhood which many do not recognise as their experience”.
In Scotland, where the government considers stripping and lap dancing forms of ‘commercial sexual exploitation’, calls for a Scottish Model that criminalises sex work clients could gain greater influence over local legislation. In response to Glasgow City Council’s current consultation on SEV licensing, GMB Scotland deemed the process an “opportunity” for female strippers and sex workers to be heard by “a political establishment that, so far, has tried to exclude them from the conversation”. GMB Scotland Organiser, Rhea Wolfson, stresses that “the council must realise what is at stake here: hundreds of jobs in Glasgow could potentially be lost. The real consequences of ending club licences would be that workers no longer have access to their trade union and the industry would continue unregulated and underground”.
The refusal to listen to, engage with, or empower the legitimate concerns of strippers and lap dancers exposes the inherent hypocrisy, harm, and hierarchical control of anti-sex work campaigners. As the United Voices of the World (UVW) Union emphasises that “dancers are best placed to advocate for their own rights and safety at work” and GMB Scotland supports “the regulation of clubs with workers’ safety at the core of any regulatory scheme”, better ways to protect strippers are clearly to listen, respect, and support their own, self-led campaigns for workplace equality.
Indeed, often lost in a surge of dogmatic, sensationalised stances on the morality of sex work are solid suggestions as to how regulation could safeguard strippers from the precarity of working as self-employed while sometimes being expected to pay steep house fees to perform at their club of choice. Banning clubs completely limits any opportunity for the decriminalisation of sex work to be guided by strippers and their unions, shaped by experience, and vested in the interest of protecting dancers’ employment rights, job security, and safety above all else.