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An Uninformed Public Is a Monster of Chaotic Panic

Tue, 10/29/2013 - 3:11pm
Chris Fox, Managing Editor

A recent story broke across the web exclaiming that British cops had seized components for a gun, that were made on a 3D printer. 

Great, all of our worst fears have come to fruition. Except, the parts seized were actually components for a 3D printer. In fact, they were parts for the very MakerBot that they were printed on.

Many inherent problems exist regarding the public’s less than blissful ignorance over 3D printing, and I’m not just trying to link-bait you in with a flashy, hot-button headline. Promise. It comes down to public knowledge.

The problem in this situation, as well as many fallacies surrounding 3D printing that aren’t as touchy, is that the mass culture now realizes that 3D printing exists. This should, at first glance, be a good thing. The more people know about a technology the faster it is adopted, and in turn, the sooner the technology can progress to bigger, better things.

The problem lies in the way word spreads about this technology. We’ve all seen the big-name news corporations of the world present photos of the “amazing power of the 3D printer” with images like these:

The reality isn’t quite so impressive – unless you are willing to invest lots of money, time, and materials for the effort.

View: Photos of the Day: 3D Printing Failures: Afinia H479 and Photos of the Day: 3D Printing Failures: LulzBot TAZ

The problem lies in the public’s misconception of what 3D printing and at-home FDM is capable of creating. In this case, the police officers not only misconstrued what the parts were, but they also assumed that the man making the prints had ill intentions.

Maybe the individual had not-so-pleasant intentions for the use of his 3D printer (and perhaps the authorities had more information on the individual than they are revealing – the AP did say he was a suspected gang member). All of that aside, we can’t arrest people for what they might do in the future.

Herein lies the problem of 3D printers and their potential to create flimsy, expensive, disposable guns. The word “potential” carries a lot of weight when it comes to creating objects, apparently.

I have discussed trying to print a gun for various editorial reasons (we haven’t, probably won’t, and really, the discussion was me asking permission), just to see how viable this weapon really is. I’ll be completely honest, I’d like to print a gun to put some of the fear, and inhibitions, to rest. When the government took down the websites and resources for the gun’s CAD files, they only stirred interest or facilitated more fear for these potential plastic weapons.

Such fear has led officers to raid a man’s home and confiscate his spare MakerBot parts. Similar to seeing floating apparitions while pawing in the dark and looking for the light switch, these officers thought they saw a magazine and a trigger mechanism, which were actually a filament holder and part of a drive block design.

An uninformed public is a monster of chaotic panic, no matter what the instigation. 3D printing is here to stay (it has been for more than two decades), but the masses (and authorities) need to relax and remember that new technology should not be feared. Until they, and the media at large, understand the capabilities of this technology, we, here at PD&D, are prepared to report both the weighted events as well as the follies of authority figures as they begin to understand the varying levels of 3D printing world.

What are your thoughts on the authorities' reaction to this alleged gun-printer? Is at-home manufacturing of weapons really something we need to be concerned about? Comment below or email chris.fox@advantagemedia.com.

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