The Future of Gun Ownership


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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85 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I don’t think it’s the manufacturing costs that are keeping drug prices high. The issue being patents and such. Which, of course, is what makes 3D printing the real wild west. Do design patents become as hard to enforce as artistic copyright? If so, what does that mean?Report

    • Avatar David Ryan says:

      It’s one thing to replicated a movie or a song; consequence if a couple of the frames/notes/bits are out of place. It’s quite another to replicate an object; a nut, a bolt, a drug, a gun…

      Of course I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but I already know I’m going to get a lovely feeling of schadenfreude when these things start blowing up in people’s faces.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Between here and Star Trek Replicators are these things.

        There are several other things between here and Star Trek Replicators, of course… but this is one of the early ones.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      At least some drugs are actually really expensive because of manufacturing costs and/or the lack of synthetic precursors. The lack of a good total syntheis for taxol for instance,
      makes it so that each saline bag for a chemo round comes out to 1000-2000 dollars.

      (which as a complete aside, makes the whole ‘we may find the cure for cancer in the rainforest’ meme so annoying. It does us no good if can only be found the rainforest in small quantities.)Report

  2. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    Mike, Cory Doctorow wrote a really fascinating piece about the way that technology like this could dramatically reshape ideological coalitions across the board, and how different reactions to it could play out. He called it “The Coming Civil War over general purpose computing”, and I’d suggest you check it out.Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Forget these hi-tek 3-D printer thingummies. I’ve seen weapons made with my own eyes, in Peshawar, in Pakistan. Using technology out of the 19th century, these smiths can forge up a 20th century gun, a far more robust weapon out of scrap metal.

    The problem isn’t the weapon. It’s the munition. The world is chock full of weapons. Reliable bullets, different story.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon says:

      Reliable bullets can be made at home – but definitely not by a 3D printer.

      This whole thing is a farce. They’re talking about producing a *single shot* weapon. (If you’re lucky – any small void or resin bubble in the printing process gets a gun likely to burst in your hand). Spending over $9000 for a printer to make something like that strikes me as ridiculous.Report

      • Avatar Fnord says:

        If you can buy powder and primers, sure you can make bullets. OK, perhaps you could manage the powder, with a little chemistry background or going off an internet recipe (black powder if not smokeless). But if you think you can make primers in your basement, you’re a more daring chemist than I.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

          They also mention on their site that they are hoping with time to create a blunderbuss-type design that would only require gunpowder and could be filled with whatever is on hand. Also, those could probably rely on a basic metal pipe for the barrel.

          The point is, obviously the technology is tricky, but I never underestimate the ability of people to design amazing things these days.Report

          • Avatar Fnord says:

            Just gunpowder, no primer; we’re talking basically about a flintlock here? I have no doubt you could build a flintlock (and ammo for it) in your basement, if that’s what you’re going for. People have done THAT well before the invention of 3d printing, although I suppose 3d printing might make a few of the fiddly bits easier.Report

  4. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Call me an snob and but I would probably never trust a drug that someone made in their basement while following a patent application.

    Unless said friend also had a PhD in biochem, nanotech, phramacology, etc. And even then I would be cautious. At least if a pharma-drug is defective, you can sue the company that made it. You can’t recover as much from Bob’s basement drugs.Report

  5. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    I participated in a few of the Occupy protests here in LA.

    In several of them, we were facing off against the LAPD riot squads with their nightsticks, body armor, shotguns, tear gas, and helicopters.

    I kept thinking to myself- “y’know what would level the playing field here? A single shot .22 caliber homemade gun!”

    Then I shouted “WOLVEREEEEEENS!”

    Which was cool, except then a few of the other people started whispering and edging away from me.


    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      A single-shot .22 caliber homemade gun against riot police in a faceoff… bad idea.

      100,000 single-shot .22 caliber homemade guns in the hands of a populace who really wants to kill 1,000 members of the Stasi?

      Everybody takes off their armor when the go home.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Have you watched the movie “The Lives Of Others”?

        I still wonder why there weren’t more people found in ditches with rags in their mouths.Report

      • Avatar david says:

        Let’s hope they don’t also want to kill 1,000 Tutsis. Sadly one cannot rely on a mob to remain nobly liberal.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        I kid, I kid.

        Actually I am a firm proponent of the idea that citizens should own weapons, for the very reason Mike Dwyer mentions. (I still retain traces of my Republican self).

        I don’t for a moment think that armed citizens are a serious match for the US Army, but I have seen that merely being willing and able to inflict losses causes even a vastly superior army to pause and consider negotiations.Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          Remember that a lot of those armed citizens are experienced hunters & US Army & USMC veterans with rifles that are a good deal more powerful than an M-16.

          The US Army going against it’s own citizens would be a whole different battle than what they face in Iraq & Afghanistan.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Everybody takes off their armor when the go home.

        Fortunately, this is precisely what’s happened in Syria.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Or less snarkily, people always seem to forget that when there are a bunch of armed people who are against those in power, there are always a bunch of armed people who are with those in power. Usually, the latter outnumber (or at least outgun) the former.

          In America in particular, there seems to be a strange notion that when the revolution comes, every citizen with a gun will be on the same side.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          The Syrian civilian population was considerably less armed than the Iraqi general population.

          The rate of private gun ownership in Syria is 3.92 firearms per 100 people
          The rate of private gun ownership in the United Kingdom is 6.72 firearms per 100 people
          The rate of private gun ownership in Libya is 15.52 firearms per 100 people
          The rate of private gun ownership in France is 31.22 firearms per 100 people
          The rate of private gun ownership in Iraq is 34.22 firearms per 100 people
          The rate of private gun ownership in the United States is 88.82 firearms per 100 people

          Syria is about as disarmed as any nation can be, lower than the U.K. (still more than Japan, granted).

          That old saw about dictators disarming their populace isn’t quite universally true, but Syria is a good case for seeing it in action.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Yeah, I was being snarky, but it remains true that when the civilians started shooting, the security forces didn’t run away (or if they ran away, it was just to their howitzers).

            Libya is another good example of what I mean: sure, sometimes it turns out that the protesters have guns. Usually, so do the people they’re protesting against. And often, so do the counter-protesters as well.

            1000 guns against riot police usually just means civil war.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              One thing about dictators, they still know what the phrase “total war” means.

              About the only thing you can do in total war is die, and hope that eventually enough guys on the offense wind up killing their buddy’s grandma that they get tired of it.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

              “1000 guns against riot police usually just means civil war.”

              Sure. but 1,000 guns in the hands of people who don’t mind putting a bullet in the back of the police’s heads on a quiet street… that’s something totally different. These aren’t meant for direct confrontation. in the Liberator pistol model they are meant for assasination and acquisition of heavier firepower.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’m not sure how that’s going to work, but even if it did, it still remains that there will be plenty of folks with Liberator pistols who are killing the liberators with a bullet in the back of the head on a quiet street.

                My point is, when things get to the point of armed insurrection, things have gotten to the point where both sides have armed citizens. Hence, civil war.Report

              • Avatar Fnord says:

                Wikipedia seems to think that the Liberator pistols, in the end, never saw more than limited distribution, and that there isn’t any evidence that it provided to be an effective tool for resistance/insurgency purposes.

                I’m not sure how well the scenario you’re imagining will match reality. Police officers walk alone or in small numbers down quiet streets in a relatively low state of alertness now, to be sure. But police in a liberal democracy with a functioning civic society act rather differently than those in an oppressive tyranny with a large chunk of the population engaged in active, violent resistance to their presence. Not that an armed populace is useless, or that it’s by any means impossible to kill them under those circumstances, but it seems one might be better off thinking along the lines of “Improvised Explosive Device” rather than “Single Shot Small Caliber Pistol”.Report

            • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

              Like I said above, big difference between a rebel who first held a rifle 2 weeks ago, and one who has been hunting his whole life, or who is a military vet.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            That old saw about dictators disarming their populace isn’t quite universally true, but Syria is a good case for seeing it in action.

            What about the old saw that when push comes to shove armed civilians will win a Glorious Revolution against their governmental oppressors here in the US, the most heavily armed government in history?

            Does anyone really believe that private gun ownership is a check on the expansion of governmental power? If anything, it seems to me to act as an accelerant.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              If you’re concerned about government overreach, I’m curious as to how many more guns per capita you need to slow the thing down, yes. More than 100 per 100 citizens? I dunno.

              We’re certainly a whole lot more armed than anybody else. Hell, we have almost twice as many guns as the Swiss.Report

            • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

              If the government is in an arms race with it’s citizens, I think that says something about the government.

              And about the citizens…

              And none of it is good…Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                The problem is, regardless of what the government does, the citizens are going to end up in an arm’s race with other citizens. And the citizens who side with the government will, in most cases, be better armed, unless another government comes in and arms the citizens against the government.

                Like I said above, there’s a fantasy I see any time the idea of having guns to protect against tyranny comes up, that involves the belief that when citizens use their guns against the government, all of the citizens with guns will be on the same side. They won’t. It doesn’t work that way. It never does. Unless the government is an occupying power (say, France in Algeria), one man’s revolution is always another man’s civil war.Report

            • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

              This seems exactly right to me. When I see the kinds of yahoos on the internet who talk about how important guns are, I am incredibly thankful that the government maintains a massive advantage in the firearms department. The easiest way to get me to hand over more power to the state is to tell me rednecks are manufacturing guns at home.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


                Doesn’t that assume that the government will use their guns more responsibly than the rednecks?

                And for the record (since several people seem to be missing the point here), this project is designed for insurgent groups in places where it is hard to get weapons. Fortunately that isn’t a problem for American citizens.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

                A) Yeah, it does assume that. That may be wrong, and there are good libertarian reasons not to EVER trust the state with guns, but I grew up a smart, liberal, orientation-ambiguous kid in a fairly redneck town, and I know for a fact that these are some truly awful people. I’m not a snob because I’ve never seen the heartland; I’m a snob because I grew up there.

                B) I guess I also missed the point. It’s not particularly clear, as I look back over the post, that that’s what these guns are intended for. As someone who does his level best to avoid gun culture, I have little to no context for this kind of thing.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                When you say ‘these are some truly awful people’ – I assume you know this is a gross stereotype, right? Most of my friends could easily be classified as rednecks and if my wife is to be believed, I also fit the bill.

                There are indeed ‘truly awful’ rednecks, but at least around here we have another word for them. There are also ‘truly awful’ white collar folks, as I’m sure you know. Having hunted public land for 20 years and visited many a gun club, I’ve actually had more problems with the doctors and lawyers and guns than I have ever had with rednecks and guns.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                +1. I run into poachers a lot. They aren’t nearly the dangerous shit on wheels that a man using a gun as a substitute penis is.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Okay, you grew up in somewhat assholeville.
                I’ve seen true assholeville
                And there are plenty of places that are NOT assholeville(vermont?)

                … and they’re all redneck.

                Your experiences do not generalize here. I can certainly sympathize, but, please!Report

              • Avatar Mopey Duns says:

                Now now. Be fair to Ryan. Everyone knows that rural folk are despicable assholes, and not to be trusted. Especially if they are poor and under-educated.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

                I’m not sure if everyone knows that. I know that.Report

  6. Avatar George Turner says:

    3-D printed guns aren’t nearly as socially destabilizing as 3-D printed cat toys.Report

  7. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    The first item that comes to my mind is medicine. Imagine how the world would change if access to medicine was as cheap as buying certain chemicals in bulk and having a friend safely whip up your meds in his basement?

    It would be disastrous, as there would be no incentive to fund the development of new drugs.Report

  8. Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

    ” Imagine how the world would change if access to medicine was as cheap as buying certain chemicals in bulk and having a friend safely whip up your meds in his basement? ”

    I thought meth labs were a BAD idea?

    (I see that Dan Miller already mentioned meth, but not quite the same way)Report

  9. Avatar bookdragon says:

    Okay this is ridiculous. Yes, there are composite guns. Even very big ones. Do you know why they work? Because they are made with FIBER REINFORCED plastic using high-tech long fibers wrapped around the barrel at carefully engineered angles (and even then there are some metallic parts).

    Now, it may be possible to make a single shot weapon out of ABS thermoplastic, but it would require a lot of material to meet the pressure requirements for a gun barrel, even for a single use with .22 cal. And making it out of 3-D printed thermoplastic? With all the weak seam lines oriented so any little flaw will lead to catastrophic failure? I would NOT try using this gun (other than maybe to throw at someone if no rocks were handy).Report

    • Avatar Bert the Turtle says:

      Just as an FYI, I believe that the idea behind the Defense Distributed project is not to print the ENTIRE gun from a 3D printer, but rather just the lower receiver. In the US, the lower receiver is the part of the gun which is considered to be the “firearm” and is the legally regulated part (and the part with the serial number). The rest of the gun is supposed to be made with unregulated aftermarket parts.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon says:

        Interesting distinction.

        “The rest of the gun is supposed to be made with unregulated aftermarket parts”

        Ah, amateurs assembling firearms from plastic and after market parts. Can’t imagine what could go wrong there…Report

        • Avatar Bert the Turtle says:

          True, and I think that if the government really wanted to crack down on private gun ownership they would find a way to prevent folks from buying such things as barrels, magazines, hammers, etc. However, I could also envision a scenario where there exist gunsmiths who aren’t amatuers but are also not official, say, Remington employees, who could reliably assemble a gun using a printed reciever and mail order parts. But that’s the overly earnest engineer in me talking. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Fnord says:

        And you think that, if 3d printed lower receivers become plausible, the government can’t start regulating the rest of it, too?Report

  10. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    The true radical nature of technology is rarely grasped at first, because the technology is usually intended to mimic existing stuff more cheaply, rather than redefine it.

    Which is to say that the true impact of 3d printing, I think will be staggering. I just don’t know that it is visible at this point.

    Something tells me, though, guns can already be made pretty cheaply and easily; most gun prohibitions are astounding failures.

    I am thinking more in the direction of- we buy millions of tons of stuff from the 3rd world, where manufacturing labor is cheap enough to overcome the high cost of fuel to ship it.

    Will 3d printing turn mass production on its head and allow decentralized production of small runs of individulized items?
    I don’t know, honestly.
    But cool to imagine.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon says:

      3D printing has a lot of potential. It allows protoypes to be scaled up automatically for certain types of products or even just models of products.

      It could easily be used for small runs of cool items. For instance, ABS thermoplastic is what they use to make Legos. Image getting to design your own Lego model of nearly anything – including special non-standard pieces – and then just uploading the parts spec to a computer and entering your payment method. A week later, Bingo! The whole set is delivered to your doorstep.

      If you ask me, that’s a much more compelling business plan than Defense Distributed’s.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        Why delivered?
        At first, Xerox machines replaced armies of typists, and a local copier place could deliver reams of letters a day after you dropped off the original.
        Today every office allows us to print the same right at the source.

        Maybe we all have cheap home printers, making simple stuff (I need a replacement knob for my oven so I order the file from the mfr., download it and print it);

        But maybe a corner fabricator has a big commercial quality printer, and he can make anything you can order- and there are websites like Google Sketchup where you can find free 3d models.

        This is where 1 is as cheap as 1,000, defeating the scale advantage of mass production. Sort of like how there is a cottage industry of artists now using graphics programs to create individual art, without the middle man of salons and art dealers.

        In my dreams, William Morris’ and the Bauhaus’ dream of melding craft and design is realized.Report

        • Avatar bookdragon says:

          Eventually the price of these printers will probably reach the point that most middle class folk can own one, but its not there yet. And right now buying the cartridges for it isn’t quite as easy as getting ink or paper. (Nor will dealing with printer jams be anywhere near as easy for most people).

          If there is a fabricator on the corner, you could obviously use that. However a lot of us don’t live that close to even small downtowns where might set up. Until there is a countrywide network, if I were setting up the ‘Maek Your Legos’ website, I’d do it like Amazon and have product shipped from the closest facility in my organization. Eventually that might turn into the affiliate seller thing where a local outlet is a source option, but the infrastructure has to develop.Report

  11. Avatar Kim says:

    Yeah, fucking great, we get medicine out of the deal.

    You wouldn’t be cheering the ability to fabricate a nuclear weapon this way, so why in GOD’s NAME are you cheering the ability to fabricate medical equipment?

    Bioterrorism is fucking scary shit.Report

  12. Avatar damon says:

    I’d like to note a few things. The liberator gun was caliber 45. It’s a big bullet, the same one that the GIs used in their 1911 semi automatic pistols. Defense Distributed is still a long way from “printing” a weapon that could handle the pressure of a .45 cal round. Frankly, in a test between 1,000 folks holding a single shot .22 pistol vs. a bunch of riot cops in body armor, polycarb shields, tear gas, rubber bullets, etc., I’d bet on the cops. It’d be a bit different it the 1,000 protestors had a single shot .45. That being said, the PURPOSE of the liberator was to provide a means for the resistance to kill a solder and take his better weapon.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Damon – You are indeed corect on the caliber and the limitations there. I would note a few things though:

      – The gun could be designed to work with a few readily-available metal parts. A short length of metal pipe for the barrel. A short piece of metal added to the receiver. Etc.

      – During the Seige of Boonesborough in 1778 the defenders fashioned a cannon out of a hollow-out log re-enforced with metal bands. They were able to successfully fire it once before it exploded.

      It’s important to rememer we’re talking one shot, not a multi-use weapon. Also, it would be ridiculous to use these against riot police in a direct confrontation. They are designed for assasination and covert kills. Here’s a good video on the subject.


  13. Avatar Citizen says:

    A bucket of gasoline and a match can overcome a fully armed soldier in body armor. There are some dangerous folks out there who would never bother to build a gun.Report