Here in the United States there is often talk about whether there should be more regulations on who can purchase a gun. Any rational discussion of such a topic is usually quickly overshadowed by gun rights advocates who assume that someone not wanting a person with a history of violence from buying a machine gun must mean they don’t want a law abiding citizen from owning a pistol. Since these advocates get so much airtime is part of the reason there is a lot of talk about regulations, but no action.
As someone who writes science fiction, I see my job as looking at the trends of technology and society and speculating about what sort of world they will most likely lead to. When I look at what I feel is the likely future of guns, I see a world where regulations on who can buy what sort of guns as being impotent. The reason being 3D printers.
For those who don’t know, 3D printers are devices that build up a three-dimensional object by printing thin layers on top of one another. Currently, the types of objects one is able to print is limited by the material that is printed and the size of the printer. But as these engineering issues are solved and as the cost of the printers continue to fall, more and more people will be able to make things like a new chew toy for their dog or a new shower head right in their home. They will also be able to make guns.
3D printed guns already exist. I just searched for “3D printed gun” on YouTube and got over 97,000 results. Some of the videos show people firing 3D printed guns to show that they work. Right now anyone with a 3D printer and the gun printing code – versions of which are online – can print out a gun whether they can purchase one legally or not. And in the next decade or so as the cost of printers go down, more and more people will have them. Which is why I feel that gun regulations will soon be unenforceable and eventually irrelevant.
For those who feel that there are already too many guns in the country, there are basically three options. The first is to make 3D printed guns illegal. Such a proposal is as doomed to failure as any attempt to make regularly manufactured guns illegal. The gun rights advocates will scream “Liberty” and “Freedom” and nothing will be accomplished. Option two will be making the gun printing codes illegal, which is also doomed to failure. There are too many dark corners of the internet where such codes will hide. The last – and in my opinion only viable – option will be to accept that there will be manufactured and 3D printed guns in the country, but severely stiffening the penalties for misusing them. It’s possible that in the future just waving a gun during a mugging could result in multiple decades in prison.
When looking at such a possible future, the part I’m most curious about is how the gun rights advocates will react. I suspect that eventually, the gun control advocates will have to throw up their hands and say, “Guns are here to stay, there’s nothing we can do about that. We won’t do anything against those that use guns responsibly, but we’ll nail to the wall anyone who misuses them.” Will the gun rights advocates be okay with that, or will they still find fault?