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Noble, but useless: 3D printing guru on city’s 3D-printed gun ban

The City of Philadelphia has become one of the first municipalities to launch a 3D printing ban on firearms. One local 3D printing expert calls the effort 'noble' but ultimately useless.

3D-printed replicas of City Hall, found inside hackerspace Hive76.

This is a guest post by Chris Thompson, 3D printing supervisor at NextFab Studio. This reflects Thompson's personal views and not that of his employer.
Updated 12/10/13 to add a clarification that Chris Thompson's view does not reflect his employer NextFab's opinion

Last month, Philadelphia became the first city to ban 3D-printed guns, according to a legal advisor for the Police Department. To Chris Thompson, 3D printing supervisor at NextFab Studio, it’s a “noble effort…but it’s kind of useless.”

Noble, Thompson says, because Councilman Kenyatta Johnson wanted to impact gun control but useless because the federal government already has a similar prohibition and it’s not easy to enforce. The definition is odd, too:

Three-dimensional printer. A computer-driven machine capable of producing a three-dimensional object from a digital model.

Here is more of Thompson’s perspective, which Thompson stresses does not reflect NextFab’s opinion:

“That [definition] includes the three CNC milling machines at NextFab and the laser cutters. They used the word “3D printing” to jump on some buzz words instead of “digital manufacturing” or something. So you can’t carve a gun out of metal or plastic either. It’s a short bill, and it doesn’t include anything designed to stop violence. It’s a slight waste of time in my opinion.

NextFab doesn’t have a manufacturer’s license from the ATF, the federal agency in charge of preventing the illegal manufacturing of guns, so we’re not allowed to make weapons on any of the machines. We wouldn’t if we could. NextFab’s policy prohibits employees and staff from making weapons.

Last year, local artist Peter Erickson asked us to print the frame of a Beretta. We were very cautious, made sure his exhibition was legit, and received a statement from him that it was only intended as a sculpture. And with all that, we even scaled it up 105 percent, making it useless as a weapon.

All of the 3D-printed gun models from Defense Distributed [the Texas nonprofit that developed the first 3D-printed gun] have been produced on commercial machines like the Dimension at NextFab. I quoted the pistol on NextFab’s machine and it’s quite expensive: almost $600, which could buy a real gun. The recently publicized metal printed gun has to be at least $5,000.

Defense Distributed has created a permanent gun control loophole. The 3D models they designed will not go away, and RepRaps (3D printers made out of 3D printed-pieces) will not go away, so the printed plastic gun is a reality. Like Chekhov’s gun, it’s only a matter of time before it’s used to kill someone. Also, because it’s mostly undetectable, there’s a good chance it will happen on the other side of a metal detector.”

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Technical.ly is a network of local technology news sites and events, including Technical.ly Philly and Philly Tech Week, Technical.ly Baltimore and Baltimore Innovation Week and Technical.ly Brooklyn. The news site features voices from a broad community of people using technology to make cities better. Guest commentary is welcome.

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