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3D Printed Guns: Should You Be Concerned?

RDC: Welcome back to The Costa Report. I’m Rebecca Costa and Luis Alvarez the CEO the Alvarez Technology Group is back with us again – thank you for joining us again Luis. We have been talking about the pros and cons of gun control today and I know you have an interesting spin to put on our discussion from a technology perspective. .

LA: I do. Actually your discussion with Ted Nugent about the Second Amendment and gun rights reminded me of a recent article I came across about Representative Steve Israel, a congressman from New York, who is yet again introducing legislation to outlaw 3-D printed guns. You and I have talked about 3D printing technology for years now and just how fast the technology is advancing.

RDC: That’s right – and I believe we were the first in the media to talk about the fact that guns which are fully functional were being printed and used.

LA: Yes, I think we may have been the first to bring up the issue of 3-D printed guns. I remember a couple of years ago we talked about a college student from Texas who spent a year developing a way to use an early 3D printer to create a functioning gun, a weapon, by the way, that could easily slip by any metal detector since it was made of plastic resin. If you go to Youtube.com and search for 3d printed gun, you’ll find some videos of it.  Anyway, the student then uploaded the blueprints for the weapon he created online to be shared with anyone else who wanted to do the same thing.

RDC: So folks may not familiar with the concept of 3-D printing give us a little background.

LA: A 3-D printer is a device that creates three dimensional objects by exuding malleable materials in such a way as to form the object. The original 3D printers were limited to using plastic materials and produced very basic designs. Since then, though, the technology has advanced pretty dramatically and current crop of 3D printers can create much more sophisticated devices, including better guns, which is why Congressman Israel is trying to fight the tide in Congress against gun control legislation by proposing the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act. The law, if passed, would forbid the possession or manufacture of any gun that could slip through a metal detector unnoticed.

RDC: Are there any laws that printing a gun fall under right now?

LA: Good question. There is a more basic version of the law on the books right now, the Undetectable Firearms Act, which requires that all guns be detectable by metal detectors but the folks who have manufactured 3D plastic guns get around that restriction by installing a removable chuck of metal in the guns, which makes them legal, but the metal plug can easily be removed.

RDC: So do you know where the NRA stands on this?

LA: Not surprisingly, our friends at the NRA are strongly opposed to any expansion of the current law despite the fact that the congressman argues that his law is aimed squarely at terrorists and other bad actors who would try to evade detection to get on airplanes and into crowded venues to do others harm. And this isn’t the first time he’s tried. He introduced similar legislation in the last congress and even got some Republicans to co-sponsor with him, but it went nowhere and chances are the same thing will happen this time. Some people, though, are more optimistic about the future of these kind of laws that limit dangerous uses of 3D printers, primarily because the danger is becoming more apparent as the technology matures. And Congressman Israel has crafted the wording of the legislation to avoid casting a wide net against all 3D printer technology and, in fact, it doesn’t even mention 3D printing.

RDC: The price of 3-pritners keeps dropping and so the adoption of the technology seems to be going relatively quickly. .

LA: Yes, that’s true. . .We really need to understand that 3D printing technology is moving pretty fast and we can’t be sure of where it’s going. For example, researchers at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena just announced that they developed a cheap add-on device that turns virtually any smart phone into a 3D scanner. It uses a technology called light detection and ranging imaging to scan an object and record its height, width and depth which it uses to build a blueprint that can be loaded into a 3D printer to create an exact replica of the object. The technology is in very early stages of development so it’s far from being ready for prime time, but it just goes to show how far and fast we’re moving.

RDC: So it sounds like a blueprint to fabricate anything will soon be as simple as taking a photograph from your phone.

LA: Exactly! As you can probably tell, I’m a big believer in the future of 3D printing, especially as the technology gets into wide spread use. But, like any technology, there are going to be positives and negatives and we’ll have to see how this shapes policy because the laws will have to adapt once everyone can print a gun from any place on earth!

RDC: That’s all the time we have but thank you Luis for this update on 3D printers and we’ll look forward to seeing what new technology breakthroughs you bring to our attention next week – Thank you Luis.

LA: Thank you Rebecca. This is Luis Alvarez from the Alvarez Technology Group reminding you that when it comes to technology, forewarned, is forearmed!

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