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Guns and 3D printing? A dud but the message still hits home

Reports that you can download and print off a gun from the internet turn out to be wide of the mark. But they nevertheless draw a bead on a worrying issue.

Written at my home office and despatched to TechRepublic at 40Mbps over my office wi-fi system.

Chemist and inventor Alfred Nobel came from a family of engineers and problem-solvers. Perhaps his biggest contribution to human progress has been dynamite, without which we would have been incapable of executing so many large-scale civil engineering projects - such as railways, roads, tunnels, dams and mines.

One of the many other inventions among his 355 patents was cordite - the first smokeless explosive used by the British army. Unfortunately, it is the death wrought by this invention and others for which Nobel is mostly remembered.

His involvement in the arms industry and contribution to thousands of deaths in numerous wars is undeniable, but was that his intent? No one knows for sure.

But what we do know is he was horrified at what he had contributed to, which led him to leave his considerable fortune to the promotion of good through an endowment supporting the now-treasured Nobel Prize.

Strangely, perhaps, Nobel never stipulated that his prizes should afford any recognition for engineering and technology, but I suspect that was symptomatic of his times and the perceptions of the age.

Today, it is clear that all scientific advances would cease without the contributions of both disciplines. And it is also clear that it is not only scientists who inadvertently get blood on their hands - engineers and technologists do to.

No matter what you do or how hard you try, someone somewhere will turn your invention and creativity to the dark side. Obvious examples include guns built into umbrellas, cigarette packets, briefcases, computers, cameras and false fingers.

The list is endless and the ingenuity breathtaking. But the latest turn is perhaps even more worrying. The first major gun component has been created using a 3D printer. Now while this first effort was nowhere near a 3D printer creating a complete firearm, it was enough of a start to cause concern.

So here's the scenario. Someone with a real gun dismantles all its components. Each item is scanned in by a 3D process. Suitable materials - such as plastic and metal - are selected and the printing can start.

Right now the barrel, firing mechanism and breach components pose significant challenges for 3D printing because of the pressures and heat generated by firing. However, there are already examples of plastic barrels that do the job for low-pressure pistols.

In the end, technology has always brought us curses along with the blessings. But the glass is normally full to brimming, and as a result we make positive progress.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

97 comments
dinosorensen
dinosorensen

A gun requires steel for the barrel, the action, etc. This is because the compression required to contain the gasses generated by burning powder is so high, very few materials can contain it. A 3D gun would most likely explode in the hands of the shooter. When the 3D printer can also cast 3,000 degree liquid steel, then it is time to worry. However, you can make a gun from a radio antenna and toys. It might explode in your face, but zip guns are easy to make.

peter
peter

I try not to stress over anything...especially the complex and interesting :-)

peter
peter

An Interesting Perspective NEW YORK—Cheers filled the streets and American flags waved triumphantly through the air today as the nation turned out in full force to celebrate an entire week having passed since the last time a madman opened fire on innocent civilians in some kind of fatal mass shooting. “We did it, folks! We banded together and managed to go seven whole days without killing our fellow Americans in a senseless murdering spree!” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in a speech to jubilant throngs gathered in Times Square. “Yes, some people were shot this week, but not in a random, highly public, viscerally disturbing way and—most importantly—not all in one place, by one psychopath. Maybe one day we can live in a society where abominable large-scale gun violence stays out of the national headlines for a whole month even!” At press time, federal authorities had issued a reminder to all Americans that a lot can happen in 24 hours, “so let’s not get too excited yet.”

56Wrecker
56Wrecker

So...WHAT'S the POINT of this article ? Is it merely to show the Author's ignorance and prejudice?

peter
peter

I live in a rural area And I own a gun It took a visit from the polic. I had to prove I had a big rabbit problem I had to prove that a 16Mn airgun would not do the job They decided that a 0.22 would be the best calibre But an air powered (external gas tank) gun would do the job @ 45Nm And I didn't really want something that could fire a mile + I then had to get three referees as to my sanity and suitability A criminal record check is manditory A month later I received a fire arms certificate I could then buy said weapon It has to be locked in a steel (bolted to floor and wall) cabinet It has to be kept locked at all times The ammo must be hidden in a different place Only I have access to they key Oh - and I cannot transport it, or use it, off my land without police prior permission If I was in a city there would no chance of getting a certificate for anything And there is an outright ban on all hand guns The one exception for rifles (only) is to join a gun club. Hand guns of all form are banned at clubs too This contributes somewhat to peaceful nature of the UK - gun wise anyway I'm in Singapore right now - and they have even tighter controls than the UK. Next stop Switzerland - and a bit more relaxed than the UK

MeijerTSR
MeijerTSR

.."cause I thought something sexual would have been tried before weapons.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

[i]Dear diary! Great news! Today I had a breakthrough in the lab. Batch 3232 turned out to detonate with considerable force, yet leave very little smoke. Finally armies can use weapons with high rates of fire without obscuring their own view of the killing field!!! My life-long goal of contributing to thousands of deaths in numerous wars is finally at hand! -Alfie[/i]

peter
peter

Get a passport, travel, and wake up to the fact that 96% of the world don't live in the USA. Try thinking international - it might help you see things differently.

RNR1995
RNR1995

Please, Doctors kill more people than murderers with guns, get off it already Guns do not kill people, people kill people I am sickened by the anti gun crowd, you people need to study history Unarmed we will all become slaves If you REALLY want to stop crime, kill all the criminals Three strikes your dead law, why are my tax dollars wasted on hoarding criminals in jails?

dubtek
dubtek

Anyone could make their own self defense tool in house! How safe we'll be when the bad guys know how easy it is to create protection! PS. No, I'm not being facetious.

Tinman57
Tinman57

Oh geeze, these anti-gunners are really anti-brains.....

andrew232006
andrew232006

If they couldn't get or make guns any other way they'd make them out of pens, and they have. I still believe they should be arrested for carrying around a concealed murder tool, regardless of it's origin.

rocket ride
rocket ride

So, Peter, why is the ability to "roll your own" means of self defense automatically a negative? It could be the thing that liberates us all.

peter
peter

Your out of date...read through some of the other contributions and do some research....metal, ceramic, glass, plastic 3D printing is with us already in industry and guns have already been printed and demonstrated! Boeng are now printing over 300 aircraft parts including engine components....

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

will soon find a reason to blow someone up just to break the peace.

dogknees
dogknees

The point of the article is to make some specific information known to us the readers. That seems pretty obvious and the information is clearly presented. Or are you talking about the responses?

peter
peter

The British are not coming back I can assure you :-) And the USA has the biggest arms budget on the planet - so who is going to invade ?

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

of provincial attitude towards us Yanks, but he does bring up some unpleasant facts to go along with his thesis. His conclusions are a tad simplistic but I'd rather be in his camp than your "kill 'em dead crowd". Surely you don't subscribe to any legislative/law enforcement/judicial system as being infallible do you?

peter
peter

You are an American I presume!

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

Swiss Army knife, 'chemistry set', weed killer, auto, bare hands, walking-stick, ashtray, a room with a good lock....guns aren't any more murderous than these items (concealed or not). Malicious intent murders people; the tool used is a far secondary consideration (argue with a psychopath on the edge of a cliff....). My guns are 'self-defense tools', and 'concealing' them doesn't help their deterrence to crime. Peter's immersed in a culture that doesn't trust itself (apparantly) to not rise up and shake off the Monarchy...or protect itself individually from trespass or harm (while the bobbies are getting someone's cat out of a tree somewhere else). Gun owners are more likely to still be standing an hour later when the cops show up to remind crime victims that "the police aren't here to 'protect' you"---but to tally the damage and file reports afterwards. "Guns don't protect their own property and loved ones; responsible gun-owners do, though".

peter
peter

I'm not being glum - just realistic: But the glass is normally full to brimming, and as a result we make positive progress. And if the 4% of the people on the planet (USA) looked outside their own countries borders they would see peaceful cultures with less gun crime/killings per year than the USA in an hour/day where owning guns is strictly controlled and their is no 'right to bear arms'. So technology of this kind provide a fast by-pass mechanism to all controls.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

and NORCOM (with it's visiting Spetznaz contingent) seems to be ready to invade/disarm this 'nation full of *domestic terrorists*'. The Constitutional reason for gun ownership was always defense against a gov't-gone-mad (hence the Framers' expectation that the "Tree of Liberty" would be "watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants" every so often). Adams expected it to take no more than 20 years between times that the crooks seized power and were re-constrained by an armed, freedom-loving populace. The 'invasion' the 2nd Amendment anticipated and planned against was a 'civil war' between citizens and the domestic military (and/or 'Hessians' if U.S. troops refuse to engage the populace). Now you know who's thinking of 'invading', and who our Constitution warned us about....

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

number of guns, their location, and who can use them that counts.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

Your elitist snobbery and bigotry is showing...

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

risen in Australia since the bulk of the law abiding population has been disarmed - the crimes know the only people who may shoot back are the cops.

andrew232006
andrew232006

I don't trust the rest of these people with guns. Carrying a handgun doesn't keep my shoes from falling off. In fact, it doesn't serve any purpose other than killing people. It's not going to stop bullets or keep you alive when you've been shot. It might keep someone from shooting you if you shoot them first, but a smart criminal would shoot the people carrying guns first. If you're out hunting with a rifle, you have a reason to have a gun. Even if you're in your home and someone breaks in, you have a reason. But I don't see the reason for a concealed weapon.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

some countries have all adults armed after being PROPERLY trained in the care and sue of said weapons, they have the lowest rate of gun killings.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

However, the amount of firearm training required to be able to accurately shoot someone in a limb would mean we'd need to double or triple the number of police just to maintain the current patrol levels as they'd need to spend two thirds of their time down at the range to maintain high marksmanship standards. The majority of rifle and pistol marksmen are not average persons, they've something special as regards firearms, but it still takes them many hours of practice each week to maintain. The only way to be SURE of hitting someone with a firearm, especially a handgun, which is NOT the most accurate of weapons - just the most convenient in a limited space to work with, is to aim for the centre of body mass - that's the middle of the chest. It's almost impossible to hit someone there and NOT hit something lethal. Also, if you have a handgun that's powerful enough to knock someone down, and there's no point in shooting someone with something that isn't that powerful, then you need to hit the centre of body mass to minimise the risk of the round passing through and hitting an innocent bystander. You could issue the police with something that definitely won't pass through the body, but then you make it an almost definite kill shot. In a situation where a number of police are on hand, it's hard to say which one should or shouldn't shoot. Once the situation reaches the point where one is making the decision to shoot, the training and rules would have them all making that decision, and since they can't be sure the others will shoot they fire once they reach that decision. That would result in all firing at once. BTW There have been cases of people needing to be shot several times by the one officer to stop them. Sometimes due to them wearing body armour, but more often due to them being so high on adrenalin or drugs they don't, or hardly, feel the impact of the bullets.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

The case of a taser being discharged 28 times on the one person seems just a little over the top. There are currently 2 Police Officers in the Dock for setting up a guy in Northern NSW where they bashed him while in custody and then tried to destroy the video evidence. Or the Cop on Palm Island QLD why literally bashed an Aboriginal to death and caused a riot who was latter cleared by an internal Investigation and those involved in the riot are still in jail. Seems if you are a police person you can do no wrong which is radically different to what the individual police say among themselves. Personally I gave up any involvement with Police a few years ago when I ran across a young female who had just graduated from the academy who wanted to shoot someone to see how it felt. She continually placed herself in positions where she may have to use a firearm to defend herself so she could get the experience. She scared me senseless. Besides lethal shots do not need to be taken if you want to stop a person putting 8 rounds into the upper chest to stop some crazy waving a knife seems just a little over the top to me and here at least Police do have a lot of Firearm Practice so firing to stop a person should be possible rather than firing to kill. Col

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

and some brain dead judges went about things a few years back. We had a rash of cases where crazies went at people, citizens and police, with knives etc and refused or ignored police orders to drop the weapons and surrender. In each case they were given multiple chances to surrender before the forced the police into a situation of having to shoot the crazy to protect the people and themselves. Then the media and judges crawled all over the police because the crazies got killed instead of being allowed to kill others. Naturally the politicians refused to support the police and then went out of their way to come up with alternatives to guns. The natural follow on is that because the tasers are technically non-lethal they're allowed to use them in more situation instead of guns, making their use a lot more common. Especially since the media also played up cases where they claim the cops used too much personal physical force. In the past the cops were restricted to their hands unless the perp was armed and present a clear and present danger, then they were required to draw and use their firearms if the perp didn't give it up. A whole swag of rules and restrictions existed on the use of the firearms, and still do. Now they can use the tasers for any sort of resistance and can only draw their firearm if shot at or someone is already severely injured by the perp. Thus the tendency being pushed in response to the media and a wish to show exactly what level of force is used, the cops use the tasers as they demonstrate a clear low level of restraint. Sadly, some people are much more susceptible to harm by a taser than others and there's no way to identify them up front.

kwickset
kwickset

but tasers are now used by Australian cops for extra judicial executions. It is sufficient to be suspected of shop lifting and it only takes 3 cops firing to execute a suspect with a taser. The subsequent investigation in the execution of a foreign student, a.k.a. whitewash, is always carried out in secret. FYI this time round it was not an Indian student, but a Brazilian student.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Most of the time the crims are the cops. ;) Col

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I was thinking more of the Local Police here who had it's firearm taken off it and shot by it. Personally when I had to carry a Pistol I was always told well instructed if you are going to pull it you intend to use it for what it;s designed for which was the same thing I used to say about Swords. if you don't intend to use it don't draw it. However I do have to agree with some of the above there are way too many people who simply should never be allowed to touch a weapon who have them and they end up hurting them self or having their own weapon used against them which really sort of defeats the purpose of having the thing to begin with. ;) The one that really worried me was the cops shooting some guy in the US who shot a coworker after being sacked. There where way too many people excusing the Police for starting a Blood Bath of Bystanders which was always the last alternative never the first option when I had to carry firearms. I'm reminded of a Drug Raid here where a cop got shot and they blamed the Suspect which all fell to bits when it became glaringly obvious that they didn't have any weapon let alone a firearm. Apparently the dead cop was shot by another who was more than a bit trigger happy, though I really thought that shooting your own was extremely [b]Bad Form.[/b] ;) Col

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

it seems the gangs are at it again. Mind you, if someone handles a gun the way they are supposed to by law, there is no way they can get killed by their own gun unless: a. they commit suicide - in which case they'd still do it some other way; or b. someone broke in while they were away and also broke into their gun safe and their ammo safe to wait until they came back. Just remembered to add - I've not included the drunken farm boys as they rarely get hold of a gun now days, it costs dad way too much if they do.

56Wrecker
56Wrecker

What YOU are "led-to-believe" is NONSENSE. But...you apparently believe nonsense. People killed by their OWN firearm...either do it themselves (intentionally or accidental)...OR a family member does it (in an argument OR accidentally). Someone who haw their OWN firearm USED AGAINST THEM hasn't CORRECTLY "handled" that firearm. IF you ARE going to use a firearm for protection...When you "pull" that firearm...you should also IMMEDIATELY "Pull-the-TRIGGER" ! ( or else...DON'T pull the firearm...if you are NOT PREPARED to DO that !!! ) Don't be "led-to-believe". FIND OUT for yourself......Even YOU might learn something. Think again.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

That most people killed by a Firearm here at least though I'm led to believe it's a World Wide thing is that they are killed by their Own Firearm. So those crying out that they carry a firearm for protection falls more than a bit flat when you consider that it's likely to be used against you at some point. Col

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

>"Carrying a handgun...doesn't serve *any* purpose other than killing people." (emphasis added *). That's wrong from a variety of perspectives: From that of someone who fully expects and intends to discharge his/her handgun, the NON-LETHAL purposes may range from attention-getting, to 'ensured co-operation' (ex: a shot in the air while dispersing trespassers), to, say, opening a rusty cellar-door lock ahead of a tornado, defense against wild dogs (don't laugh; and that's NOT 'hunting')...to stopping (wounding) assailants via non-lethal extremity shots (if such an assailant did die, that would be unfortunate, but no more so than had a gun-user defended himself with a golf club). That's a lot of purposes, right off the top of my head.... Those who carry a pistol they hope to never discharge have non-lethal purposes in mind, as well, chiefly 'deterrance'. Guns embody the implicit threat of escalation to would-be aggressors, and help keep one from being taken advantage of by others, singly or in groups. Why do you suppose it should be common knowledge that (for example) diamond merchants carrying samples, selling 'to the trade', are *unarmed*? Fortunately, in America, the opposite is common knowledge, and the trade is fairly safe. Robbers don't (as you posited) 'Figure out who all's armed, blast them first, then rob everyone'; in the real world, in the vicinity of armed people (1 or more), they go a few blocks over...or across town, and take their chances where their criminal act(s) won't include a *guaranteed* firefight. Your description of what happens when someone starts shooting (at you or others) was a straw man; your rationale "It's not going to stop bullets or keep you alive when you've been shot." demands the critical assumption that the very first shot fired in your vicinity not only hit *you*, but killed you outright or (apparrantly) rendered you unable to return fire. Most aimed first shots miss in tactical environments, FYI, even more when fired by the anxious and adrenaline-charged. So there's that. Plus, in public, the shooter's first target in not very likely to even be *you* (unless you're that gem dealer!)...The part you ~did~ get right was that carrying a gun doesn't stop bullets (at least once they've been fired!)--of course, they're not expected to (that's the province of Kevlar and spider-web mesh...) and you knew we all knew that. Carried handguns ARE primarily for deterrance and defense, and yes: when all else fails, you can also kill someone who's trying to kill you (or your kid, wife, next-door neighbor, et al). Your hypothetical 'smart criminal' doesn't go where armed people are, so as to kill them all (with his first shot LMAO!), and then rob everyone; he instead hunts amongst the unarmed. It's safer for him to prey on sheep, and he knows it---because you said he was 'smart'.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

are scared for guns to wet themselves every few minutes when they see a gun.

peter
peter

Not killing each other is not anti-gun, it is just civilized!

RNR1995
RNR1995

I guess the data speaks for itself

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

figure, and also to what extent they include those with unlawful weapons. In Australia now it's almost impossible to get a firearms licence and then it's usually for rural workers to have a rifle or shotgun for animal pests like rabbits. About the only people who have guns in the cities now are the cops, the few still existing gun shops, a few collectors and the majority of the criminals - who I doubt report what they have. The population of legal gun owners would now be very lucky to be 1% and the unlawful gun ownership would be about double that.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Country:Switzerland % of homicides by firearm: 72.2 Number of homicides by firearm: 57 Homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop: 0.77 Rank by rate of ownership: 3 Average firearms per 100 people: 45.7 Average total all civilian firearms : 3,400,000 Compare to one of the examples most reviled by NRA Norway % of homicides by gun : 8.1 Gun homicides: 2 Gun homicides per 100k pop: 0.05 Gun ownership ranking: 11 Avg firearms of 100 people: 31.3 Number of firearms, avg tot: 1,400,000 So, both are clearly being misrepresented; Switzerland isn't that peaceful, and Norway isn't that anti-gun. People see what they want to see. On both sides. *Yeah, I couldn't be bothered copypasting the headings twice, so I paraphrased them for the second set. They are the same headings.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

If you would just get a passport and look at other countries around the world ... ;)

peter
peter

Well the UK - USA comparison is very interesting :-)