The fact that a 3D printer can produce something out of nothing is what makes them so revolutionary and intriguing. It is also, however, what makes them a little bit scary. Once the manufacturer turns the printer loose into the world, there is little that they can do to regulate what is created on their machines. In a recent example, however, the a number of companies have stepped in to try to keep their machines out of the hands of at least one group, Defense Distributed, the makers of the notorious 3D printed gun.
In May of 2013, Defense Distributed announced that they had developed and printed the world’s first 3D printed gun. Led by Cody Wilson, the radical libertarian group believes that arms should be freely distributed. Their first downloadable gun, the Liberator, was the organization’s solution to creating universal firearm access. The Liberator is assembled from 16 printable pieces and a basic nail that is used as the firing pin. When Defense Distributed prints their version, they insert a small piece of metal into the gun so that it complies Undetectable Firearms Act. This piece, however, can easily be omitted, which means that the gun can pass through metal detectors undetected.
Later that month, Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg was invited to see the Liberator in action. Test-fired with the help of a 20-foot rope, the 3D printed gun was successfully fired. Immediately, the gun caused quite a stir. Gun advocates showed their support by downloading the files more than 100,000 times in the first two days it was available. On the other side of the fence, advocates of gun control decried the gun as extremely dangerous and in violation of a number of federal laws. Soon after the files were released, the State Department demanded that they be taken down. By then, however, the prints had spread around the internet and were readily available from a number of file sharing services. Later, the ATF released videos of guns they had printed both firing and exploding, explaining that the guns are dangerous both when they work and when they don’t.
Since Defense Distributed began, there have been a number of organizations who have refused to help them along their path. In 2012, when the group was trying to raise funds, Indigogo pulled the group’s campaign. Many file sharing companies, including Shapeways and Thingiverse, two of the largest 3D file sharing sites, have taken down any gun parts that show up on their sites. FedEx and UPS have both refused to ship certain parts for the group. At least one printing manufacturer, Stratasys, has denied Defense Distributed’s request to rent a printer.
Last week, it was reported that yet another organization has refused to offer their services or wares to Defense Distributed, as printer startup MarkForged, who is developing the world’s first 3D printer that uses carbon fiber, cancelled Defense Distributed’s pre-order and refunded the money. Rather than accepting this latest blow, however, Defense Distributed has vowed to fight back and has offered a “bounty” of $15,000 to anybody who will sell them the $8,000 printer. The group goes on to explain that they will produce guns on the printer and will let everybody know that the MarkForged printer was used.
What do you guys think? Does the printing manufacturer have any responsibility about what is produced on their machines once they have left the warehouse? Let us know in the comments.
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