Pretending That Instructions To Print A Gun Aren't Out There Won't Change The Reality That They Are

from the why-can't-our-government-live-in-reality dept

We recently had an article about how intellectual property makes people pretend to be stupid, by forcing us to pretend that digital works act in the same way as physical products do, even though we know that they don’t. This seems silly, but it goes beyond just copyright. There’s been a lot of hubbub recently concerning 3D printed guns. While there’s been some discussions about them in the past, it went into overdrive last week when the first fully 3D-printed gun was unveiled. The plans were uploaded online and… over 100,000 people downloaded them.

And then the US government freaked out, as the State Department argued that the company that put the files online may have violated export control laws.

The government says it wants to review the files for compliance with arms export control laws known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. By uploading the weapons files to the Internet and allowing them to be downloaded abroad, the letter implies Wilson’s high-tech gun group may have violated those export controls.

“Until the Department provides Defense Distributed with final [commodity jurisdiction] determinations, Defense Distributed should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled,” reads the letter, referring to a list of ten CAD files hosted on Defcad that include the 3D-printable gun, silencers, sights and other pieces. “This means that all data should be removed from public access immediately. Defense Distributed should review the remainder of the data made public on its website to determine whether any other data may be similarly controlled and proceed according to ITAR requirements.”

Remember, this file has already been downloaded over 100,000 times. It’s not going to be removed from public access. That’s reality. But the laws that demand we pretend to be stupid include pretending that something like this is stoppable, when plenty of sites are still making them available.

As Rick Falkvinge notes, the whole idea of pretending you can delete these files from existence and keep it under control suggests a very confused US government. Not only is the concept impossible, but even stepping in like that has only drawn much more attention to the files. Falkvinge points out that this highlights how the US government is “unfit to set and shape Internet policy, due to their simply not understanding of what the internet is and how it works.” Of course, that hasn’t stopped them before.

I recognize that a 3D printable gun freaks some people out. But just because some people are freaked out, it doesn’t mean we should deny reality and pretend it’s possible to disappear these plans when it’s clearly not. I don’t know about you, but I prefer a government that deals in reality, rather than one that chooses to act stupid on purpose.

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Comments on “Pretending That Instructions To Print A Gun Aren't Out There Won't Change The Reality That They Are”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

Stupid People: Stop people sharing gun blueprints!!!!

Smart People: How? Just because the filename says “Gun Blueprint” doesn’t make it a gun blueprint. It could be something else altogether. We can’t view the file as that would be an invasion of privacy. We can’t delete files “just to make sure” because that would be chilling speech. Even if we’re sure that it is a gun blueprint, there’s nothing stopping anyone from uploading them again – not even blocking files based on hashes will work, because even the most minute change to the file results in a different hash. We could stop people from uploading to our site, but that won’t stop people from going to other sites that do allow uploading.
In short, even the most drastic of measures we could take to stop the proliferation of controversial files is harmful to speech, stupid and ultimately pointless.

Now, just replace the words “gun blueprint” with the word “content” and you get why I’m against copyright.

Ninja (profile) says:

I find it awesome (that the guy made these blueprints available). It’ll spark all sorts of idiocies and developments out there.

What will the TSA do? Start looking for nails when they can’t even spot full scale constructs that look like real weapons? What will anybody do now that simple metal detectors can’t detect with this home made gun?

I wonder if these morons will now start focusing in delivering justice to those who commit any crimes and stop trying to impose heavy surveillance and disproportionate penalties/laws on the general population?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Sounds familiar

This was the first thing I thought of, too. I was in the crypto business when cryptography was treated pretty much like it was guns & bombs.

The result was that the US lost its lead in cryptography. Very few people or companies would work on it in the US — your market was then limited to the US. If you worked on it anywhere else, you could market to the whole world, including the US. So most development (and experts) went overseas.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Sounds familiar

Not just RSA. DES was the government’s compromise position, allowing products that used it to be exported freely. Almost all other nontrivial/strong crypto schemes could not be exported.

DES was (and is) considered weak. That’s why companies that had to export crypto (such as banks) used triple-DES to put some strength back into it.

tdg says:

Re: Re:

The State Department is playing a long game here. As others have pointed out, these designs are not particularly practical or useful, but if the State Department can get Defense Distributed to comply with ITAR from here on out, then the State Department can control the designs for 3D gun Version 2.0 (the one that really works).

out_of_the_blue says:

Weenies both sides: promoting and worry over TOY gun.

It’s just a bit of PLASTIC to hold a cartridge, and HOPE doesn’t blow up in your face! ANY piece of metal pipe would make a better weapon. Read this:

So “BOTH” sides, whether those promoting 3D printing or fainting over it, are just stoopid.

Sheesh. With such ignorant promoters as for this “high tech” gun, might as well be ginned-up by gun-grabbers.

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

Re: Weenies both sides: promoting and worry over TOY gun.

Thanks for a bit of sanity over all this. I’ve been saying this for months. As a mechanical designer, I work with 3D printed parts regularly. No way would I mess with a firearm that came off of any rapid prototype machine I know of.

People have been making zip guns for years. Dangerous as hell but safer than any 3D printed gun.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Weenies both sides: promoting and worry over TOY gun.

Pretty much everything when it first comes out is prone to breakdowns. What you have is a first generation 3D printed gun. The technology and materials used will get better over the next few years. When it does the guns produced will rival commercially available weapons.

Trails (profile) says:

Re: Weenies both sides: promoting and worry over TOY gun.

I don’t think anyone has been saying this is TEH UBAR DAKKA or anything. The point, though, is if you can distribute files to allow anyone with emerging (i.e. going mainstream) technology the ability to manufacture a POS one-shot low-range-low-accuracy pistol, it’s a matter of time before that design gets refined to something more lethal.

As such, this is an interesting situation, distribution of knowledge, gov’t attempts to contain it, etc…

Just cause the gun itself sucks and pipe bombs are more lethal by far doesn’t obviate the actual discussion being had (at least here, I know CNN’s been a bit shrill about this).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Weenies both sides: promoting and worry over TOY gun.

people think that there is going to be some amazing innovation in plastics. You know the development of plastics that have the same properties as steel.. Even though we’ve been developing plastics for a very long time now, and there is no indication that anything is going to change in a hurry.

Can you print out bullets for these guns ?? I doubt it, so when you purchase bullets you have to show your gun license.

A plastic unregistered gun is still an unregistered gun, and therefore illegal.

As it is illegal to manufacture a gun that cannot be easily detected by a metal detector.

No way I would try to use one, statistics show that in the US if you own a gun, and are killed by a gun, it will probably be from the gun you own !!!

The value will be even higher, if the gun has a high probability of blowing up in your face.

I therefore hope, or you loony yanks make millions of these and try them out, it will solve a lot of problems.

Lord Binky says:

Re: Re: Weenies both sides: promoting and worry over TOY gun.

I believe the weapon you are making reference to is called a Zip gun (POS one-shot low-range-low-accuracy pistol).

You can already , and have been able to for a long time, download the information for making a $2 duct tape Zip gun from the internet. As far as I can tell, this has not led to the development of Duct Tape weapon warfare or more lethal duct tape guns. I throw in the latter because it is the bullet that is the significant lethal component of a gun. Unless the gun gives a bullet super powers to kill multiple people per shot, the bullet is not becoming more lethal.

As for the direct 3D-printing of guns, this is really a novelty, it is the wrong tool for the job unless it is being used in larger manufacture process. The materials being used in the printer are not adequate for a gun, and there is no hint of adequate materials becoming feasible with the sub $20,000 3d printers. I want to point out that CNC machines are capable of manufacturing the parts on whatever material of choice, but it a subtractive manufacturing process unlike the addative process of 3D printing, so it doesn’t get people’s imaginations in gear the same way.

Now, admiteddly if the 3D printed parts were used to make silicon molds that were then used with proper casting resins, you can achieve the same non-metal build with much better characteristics.

The point is there are many more ways that are better suited to manufacturing and distrubuting weapons and weapons parts/plans/designs. Most of these methods are still cheaper and require less skill. So anyone can achieve better results than what has been and can be achieved with an equivalent investment in a 3D printer, making whatever the current iteration or whatever it develops into a novelty in comparison.

AB (profile) says:

Re: Weenies both sides: promoting and worry over TOY gun.

Thank you! It was beginning to look like no one grasped the very basic fact that this ‘gun’ will explode if you do somehow get it to fire. The person pulling the trigger will get most of the damage. And the target will probably not be hurt significantly even if the bullet actually manages to hit them. You would be better off lining up the bullets and hitting them with a hammer – at least you won’t get shrapnel.

Wait a minute, did I just agree with ootb?!?

out_of_the_blue says:

Board note: fanboys now get in FIVE hours early!

For anyone wandering in here, it’s not a fair playing field: you can BUY early access, one of Mike’s little innovations that tip the balance well toward fanboys. I believe it’s been increased recently from only an hour. — But they still waste their comments! So doesn’t really matter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Board note: fanboys now get in FIVE hours early!

For anyone wandering in here, it’s not a fair playing field! You can FREELY get early access to every topic on the internet by using reddit!

Sometimes WEEKS ahead of time! Watch the fabric of reality turn into a basket of snakes around you now!! Yu freetard that pay for early access to content which now makes no sense cause how can you be a freetard but pay for things that are free…

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Board note: fanboys now get in FIVE hours early!

Awwww, the jealousy. Imagine when ootb discovers that among those who have early access there are those that have even earlier access and can even help with the development of an article for an added premium ($$$).

Now watch his brain explode when he finds out that’s one of the ways Mike makes money on his public domain articles. The horror!

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Board note: fanboys now get in FIVE hours early!

HAHAHAHAHAHAH! Yes, I am laughing at you, because you’re running out of things to complain about! Yes, so what if we get early access? That’s a scarce resource, since the articles don’t exist anywhere else and, before publication, only Mike can let us in the door if we pay the fee. Us Insiders are paying for access to digital content and glad to be doing it.
Lemme guess, you wanna get early access for free, just like the dirty pirates you constantly deride for doing the exact same thing? Talk about “Do as I say, not as I do”.

Oh and about the fair playing field? Does having your comment first mean you’ve automatically won the debate? It takes two to tango, so no. So what if a hundred Insiders turn up and comment? That doesn’t mean that you are suddenly at a disadvantage.

Blue, you’re something else, and none of it good. You proclaim yourself a champion of copyright but not once have you ever actually defended it properly. You turn up, spew your garbage, and run away like the coward you are. Your garbage has nothing at all to do with defending copyright, but at best are merely attacks on those whom you deem your enemies.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Board note: fanboys now get in FIVE hours early!

Board note: fanboys now get in FIVE hours early!

Laughing my ass off at you, Blue. Too funny.

This one is so simple I think even you can understand it. Stop whining, register an account and buy one of the packages that includes the Crystal Ball feature and Ta-Da! you can spout your inane, useless crap before an article goes live too. I’m pretty sure Mike will take anyone’s money, whether it’s from a fan, a critic or anyone else for that matter.

Pragmatic says:

According to Scientific American, 3D printed guns are not a threat yet, but they might be in the future as the cost of using “high-end” 3D printers comes down and the plastics used are stronger and more durable.

Meanwhile, trying to suppress the information is a waste of time. It’ll get out.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is actually a win for the State Department

The point of this design isn’t to actually give people a way to make a reliable gun in their basement, it is to start a dialogue about how many of our laws and thought processes regarding the exchange of information are bass ackwards. Defense Distributed focuses on guns because it generates controversy and brings more attention to the matter.

The only reason the State Department stepped in is because these plans actually did get a lot of attention and got people talking. When people complain about how imaginary terrorists have access to undetectable plastic guns, the State Department orders them to pull the plans, declares victory, and goes home. They assuage the fears of the political hand-wringers, but most importantly, they stop the conversation that Defense Distributed was trying to start by putting their “investigation” on hold indefinitely.

The Baker says:

3d printed or machined either way firearms are MAKEable

There are millions of machinists in the US and at least as many (if not more) hobbyists with lathes, mills and even complex CNC machines in their home shop. You can build a workable firearm out of a couple of bolts & nuts using just a hand drill. They can make the plans, CAD files, instructional books/videos illegal and they can even go as far as making the steels and specialized tooling for the standard calibers difficult to get. The ability to build “guns” wont go away. That is why the “I” in IED is so deadly in the middle east.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 3d printed or machined either way firearms are MAKEable

Too true. I’ve built 3 rifles and a pistol in my garage from solid bar stock. And my lathe and mill aren’t the industrial models that populate the commercial production facilities but the results are more than adequate. My limiting factors are tooling, materials, know-how and laws. If I can’t legally own it I can’t make it. And no I do not break that law, all I need is one knuckle-head to start blabbing and bam, an instant relationship with Bubba is in my future.

Everyone acts like this is a new thing. The ATF has known about home building for decades. And 3d printed guns are just home built from a computer. We already have laws governing home building already so it isn’t like we’ve been caught flat footed. And no I don’t see 3d printed guns as a panic inducing threat most uploaders try to make them out to be. If anything the gun manufactures should be worried about the conceal carry lines but that’s about it.

Angrywebmaster (profile) says:

Anyone remember Phil Zimmerman?

This brings to mind the attempt by the government to get PGP removed from the net. They were trying to put the developer, Phil Zimmerman in jail for writing it.

Also, I read in the Daily Mail, (UK) that they printed out a version and carried it on a train right past security. They didn’t have a firing pin or bullet though.

radarmonkey (profile) says:

Wrong target?

A file on how to print a gun is pretty useless without the right 3D printer to actually print the physical gun. Within the US, ITAR shouldn’t apply, so file and printer are (or should be) OK.

Shouldn’t ITAR be applied against the 3d Printing technology? The printer, after all, is (a) much tougher to get, and (b) much more expensive, than merely downloading a useless file.

art guerrilla says:

file under: who could have predicted that...

i know a lot of techdirtians are also slashdot watchers, so i’m sure you saw the report the other day that yet another representative goober has gone full bullgoose looney, and introduced a bill that would license/restrict 3D printers…

as night follows day, so do idiot lawmakers (am i being redundant?) chase bad laws with more bad laws…

dog damn, i hates me some stoopid…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

VLD says:


This is from the ITAR. It defines, as I understand it, the defense articles and services of which the whole ITAR regulates.

? 120.3 Policy on designating and determining defense articles and services. An article or service may be designated or determined in the future to be a defense article (see ? 120.6) or defense service (see ? 120.9) if it:
(a) Is specifically designed, developed, configured, adapted, or modified for a military application, and
(i) Does not have predominant civil applications, and
(ii) Does not have performance equivalent (defined by form, fit and function) to those of an article or service used for civil applications;
or (b) Is specifically designed, developed, configured, adapted, or modified for a military application, and has significant military or intelligence applicability such that control under this subchapter is necessary. The intended use of the article or service after its export (i.e., for a military or civilian purpose) is not relevant in determining whether the article or service is subject to the controls of this subchapter. Any item covered by the U.S. Munitions List must be within the categories of the U.S. Munitions List. The scope of the U.S. Munitions List shall be changed only by amendments made pursuant to section 38 of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2778).

I do not see how the liberator could possibly fall under the above definition. The liberator was created for civilian use by civilians and is unlikely to be used to used in a military force.

Matt T (profile) says:

You got away with it once...

The arguement that the original upload broke the law, but since it’s out there, should be allowed to continue is foolish. The takedown isn’t issued to surpress the data, but to restore the standing with the law.

The DoD knows that there is spillage in this case and will take the necessary precausions associated with spillage. It is not pretending that it can put the genie back in the bottle. What it is doing however is making sure a company that is in violation of US law end’s it’s violation as early as possible.

This is like saying if you catch someone in the middle of a burgulary you should let them take as much as they can carry before stopping them. It’s foolish. Yes the information is out there. Yes it’s been reposted. But that doesn’t mean that the company who never should have posted it in the first place should continue support the distribution of information that should have never been public in the first place (according to the law).

ansible (profile) says:

a licence to kill

you know, this would all be really quite easy to fix if some elements of america weren’t so paranoid about the second amendment. we’ve already got a really good way of handling a potentially lethal instrument: cars!

how do we do it? well you gotta have a driving license. to get that license you gotta pass a driving test. if you want to take your car out in public it’s gotta have a license plate, which is in a national/state database, etc etc.

all the components are there… just replace car with gun and voila. now THAT would be a well regulated militia, as per the actual text of the 2nd am.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: a licence to kill

You’re right, no one has or will ever drive without a driver’s license or with any drunk/drug driving infractions.

You’ve solved the problem…oh, wait…

In United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875), the Supreme Court ruled that “[t]he right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second Amendment means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress, and has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the National Government.”

From Wikipedia –

Rekrul says:

I predict that before 3D printers really start to become mainstream (and by that I mean something that large numbers of average users have, like traditional printers), someone will propose a law requiring all 3D printers to have firmware that will use an internet connection to verify that any given file it’s asked to print isn’t on a restricted list.

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