WOMD. Now Available at Your Nearby Staples!

I read with interest, recent reports of a 3-D printed hand gun, created by Defense Distributed, being test-fired at a gun range just south of Austin, Texas. Defense Distributed, whose website bills itself as “The Home of the Wiki Weapons Project,” fired the gun in front of an observer from Forbes, and you can view the gun, named The Liberator, being test-fired in a video taken during the test and posted on YouTube. Defense Distributed also announced it would post the gun’s blueprints and construction details on the company’s own DefCAD design site. For you history buffs, the “Liberator” was also the name of a single-shot pistol designed to be distributed by dropping them from airplanes flying over France during World War II.

The gun isn’t completely plastic – the firing pin is a common metal nail that can be purchased at a hardware store and can be detected by metal detectors – and that single metal nail apparently makes it legal under U.S. law (the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988; Pub.L. 100–649, H.R. 4445, 102 Stat. 3816). The 3-D printer used to make the rest of the plastic components is a Dimension SST 3D printer made by Stratasys, which apparently now has a U.S. federal license to manufacture firearms.

Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, who worked on this for more than a year, is reported to have told the Forbes observer he wanted to emphasize how technology can render laws and governments essentially irrelevant, and even if the technology can be used by some individuals to harm people, “I think that liberty in the end is a better interest.”

Now, I have no intention of getting into the middle of the gun control debate with this development – even if it means that Hewlett-Packard or Epson and every printer manufacturer of tomorrow risks a preemptive strike to destroy weapons of mass destruction piling up in warehouses and distribution centers (maybe they can just keep one master printer and print the printers they sell, on demand). Nor do I need to belabor Constitutional debates over freedom of the press and freedom of speech. I suspect our President, Congress and Supreme Court – indeed, every executive, legislative and judicial authority in every nation, state, province and municipality – will soon be consumed in heated argument over the pros and cons of regulating 3-D printing.

Here is where I come out. First, like every other technology, this can be used for more good than harm. Consider being able to print body parts that might well save lives and most certainly enhance the quality of life – custom tailored to any and every individual, right down to the hair follicles. In an operating room, on a battlefield or on the football field. Think of the huge efficiencies and cost savings if mechanics could replace or repair automotive, aircraft, farming and roadwork machinery, railroad train parts and much more, on demand, when and as needed. You show up at the repair shop and a program enables a printer to give you the part you need, one that precisely matches the original manufacturing specifications, in minutes. Gosh I miss those long waits for spare parts. Lost your credit card – no problem, we can fabricate (oops, I mean “print”) a personalized replacement in minutes, embossing, graphics and all.

Imagine a world with virtually little, if any, inventory needs for so many things. No, it won’t replace food. No, it probably won’t replace fuzzy slippers. You may still have to go buy those in a real store – or order them through an e-Commerce retailer. But just imagine the possibilities!!! They are amazing and nothing short of astounding. The implications and application to health care and medicine alone are enough to make your head spin. Oh, and as for gun control – what if every weapon was encoded with material that only allowed use by a licensed and registered owner? In anyone else’s hands, sensing materials on the weapon would render it incapable of firing. Far-fetched? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Why isn’t someone working on technology that makes firing at another living thing impossible – that would certainly even the odds a little between the criminals and the law enforcement authorities. Frankly, it would reduce the levels of at least one type of violence humans are capable of inflicting upon each other.

As a lawyer, I would be remiss in pointing out the potential job security implications for the legal, information technology and security professions. Constitutional lawyers will have a field day. The issues are that important. Criminal lawyers will join the party. Lawyers will draft new warranty provisions that disclaim programming errors.

Hackers will undoubtedly try to plant malicious codes in printers, or in the design programming that operates the printers, to cause the products of such 3-D printers to malfunction. Commercial lawyers will need to account for these risks in contracts and commercial dealings.

Security experts and technology experts will be charged with preventing bad things from happening. Foreign governments may attempt to disrupt supply chains and re-supply distribution channels by computer, rather than by explosive devices or armed forces. Printer possession may become a criminal offense. Transporting or even supplying goods behind enemy lines will be an irrelevant concept when there are no “lines” anymore.

Mobile and cloud-based printers will allow bad people to print handguns in their automobiles or on a train, but will also allow us to replace a broken windshield wiper or flat tire with a portable 3-D printer in the trunk of our automobile.

Finally, I will be able to go on vacation and not pack a suitcase. I will simply head down to the business center of my hotel or to the nearest Staples and print what I need when I get there or when the weather changes. I won’t even have to remember to pack the blueprint for that tailored blue pinstripe suit I need to wear to dinner Saturday night. I can download a custom tailored suit program from the cloud wirelessly and have my wardrobe printed in time for cocktails . . . Oh no, better have the programmer let out the waist another inch.

As with all IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) articles, the views are mine, the choice is yours.