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The Printable Gun: The Times Is Freaking Out About a Still-Nonexistent Invention

Last week, we told you about Cody Wilson and his group Defense Distributed, which would very much like to create a printable gun using a 3D printer. Not so much because Wilson plans on stockpiling weapons in his dorm room, but because, as he told us, he's trying to make a point about civil liberties.

"Printable guns aren't my interest," he said. "I like the philosophical components, the democratization of manufacturing itself ... Basically it's disruptive technology. I like that. And I went a step further with it. It comes from a political perspective."

Wilson called a printable gun "not an obviously great thing," but said he'd still like to have the freedom to try to experiment with the technology. He also acknowledged that the 3D printing is still fairly primitive. At this point, a printable gun would probably have some unwelcome side effects for the would-be shooter. Like firing the thing once and then having it explode, possibly taking your hand along with it.

Somebody might want to explain all that to Nick Bilton at the New York Times' Bits blog, because he sounds like he might be hyperventilating.

As Bilton wrote in a blog post over the weekend:

It won't be long before a felon, unable to buy a gun legally, can print one at home. Teenagers could make them in their bedroom while their parents think they are 'playing on their computer.' I'm talking about a fully functional gun, where the schematic is downloaded free from the Internet and built on a 3-D printer, all with the click of a button.

Hit print, walk away, and a few hours later, you have a firearm. There are no background checks. No age limits. No serial numbers etched on the barrel or sales receipts to track the gun.

"Won't be long" is rather questionable phrasing, given that this technology is still in its infancy. The Times illustrated the article with a photo of a semi-automatic, which was only partially manufactured with a 3D printer. Although some of the issues Bilton raises are worth thinking about, we're hardly at the stage where every felon has a 3D printer set up in the basement.

Bilton does briefly mention that at the moment there is a "lack of plastics strong enough for a real gun." And he does mention that there are an awful lot of non-printed guns out there already, some of them even purchasable on the Internet or obtainable in other, not-quite-legit ways.

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But why let that get in the way of some fun hysterical speculation? "After committing a crime with a printed weapon, a person could simply melt down the plastic and reprint it as something as mundane as a statue of Buddha," Bilton writes. "And guns made of plastic might not be spotted by metal detectors in airports, courthouses or other government facilities."

Or someone could use a 3D printer to make a very, very heavy Buddha statute and just use that to bludgeon someone to death. The possibilities are endless.

Defense Distributed responded to the Times succinctly earlier today, posting the video below to their blog.

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