John Stossel: Don’t fear 3D-printed guns |
Featured Commentary

John Stossel: Don’t fear 3D-printed guns

John Stossel

Are you very afraid? 3D-printed guns are coming.

“Virtually undetectable!” shrieked CNN.

“This changes the safety of Americans forever!” shrieked MSNBC.

Does it?

Six years ago, a company called Defense Distributed posted blueprints for 3D-printed guns on the web. The Obama State Department said that violated the Arms Control Act because allowing foreigners to see them is equivalent to exporting a missile launcher, and that’s illegal.

Defense Distributed withdrew the blueprints. Gun-control advocates were relieved.

“We have enough guns in this country already,” Massachusetts legislator David Linsky tells me.

But this debate is about free speech, too.

“You can’t ban lawful U.S. citizens from sharing information with other lawful U.S. citizens,” says Defense Distributed’s lawyer, Josh Blackman.

“After the Oklahoma City bombing, Congress asked the Department of Justice, ‘Can we make a law that bans putting bomb-making instruction on the internet?’ The DOJ said, ‘No, you can’t ban putting files on the internet.’”

Not even files showing how to make a nuclear weapon?

“Nuclear bomb’s … different because it’s classified information,” he said. Courts have upheld restrictions on publishing classified information.

But the web is filled with unclassified information about how to make all sorts of deadly things.

“Should ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’ be banned”? I asked Linsky. It contains deadly recipes.

“There’s no reason to ban books,” he replied. “The genie is out of the bottle a long, long time ago on ‘The Anarchist Cookbook.’ But this is a very different thing whereby all you have to do is download a file, press a button and a printer gives you a gun.”

But it’s not that easy.

U.S. Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., made it sound as if anyone could make a 3D gun. “Bad people can go to Instagram and get an insta-gun!”

But that’s silly, like so much of what Markey says.

“It’s actually a very complicated process,” explains Blackman. You need technological expertise and very specific materials. “It might take a full day of printing. You have to treat the plastic with chemicals so that they’re strong enough. Even then, odds are, the gun’s pretty crappy.”

But the technology will improve.

It’s said that 3D guns will be “a windfall for terrorists.”

“Terrorists have access to far more dangerous weapons,” responds Blackman. “The notion that ISIS is … making these stupid little plastic guns that can fire one shot at a time strains credulity.”

But can’t plastic guns sneak past airport security?

“Bullets are made out of metal,” notes Blackman. “Plastic and rubber bullets are not very effective.”

America has a long tradition of people making their own guns, often for good reasons.

“If we had a ban on home manufacture of weapons during the time of the American Revolution, we would probably still be under the King’s rule,” cracked Blackman.

“It was a very different society,” argues Linsky. “Now we have AR-15s.”

Blackman had an answer for that: “Rights were enshrined in the Constitution for permanence … They’re there for the long haul.”

Although Defense Distributed withdrew its blueprints, it continues to fight for the right to publish them online.

Seems kind of like a pointless fight to me, because in the short time before Defense Distributed withdrew its post, hundreds of other websites had copied it. They still host the blueprints.

“I understand that some people might think that the genie is out of the bottle, but let’s put as much of that genie back into the bottle as we possibly can,” Linsky says.

But we can’t put the genies back. Today, once information is out, it’s out there forever. No government can pull it back.

Nevertheless, gun-control advocates and the childish media will demand that “something be done!”

CNN warned, “Tomorrow morning, the sun will be shining, the birds will be singing and anyone will be able to legally download instructions to 3D-print their own fully functional plastic gun!”

I liked Blackman’s response:

“That happened. The world’s the same,” he said. “People are just fear-mongering.”

John Stossel is author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.