Print Your 3-D Gun at Home?!

Consumer protection, Rights

3d printer - squareWith 3-D scanners and printers, making copies of physical items has never been easier. Obviously, with the first gun made with a 3-D printer being fired successfully, nightmares of criminals opening firearm shops in their garages likely haunt law enforcement. While this seems to be everyone’s main concern at the moment, another nightmare looms for makers of material goods as digital piracy quickly leaks into the world of material manufacturing.

Welcome to the Future

It’s not human cloning, but you can now make physical copies of 3-D objects using a printer like the Makerbot ($1,000-2,200). Scanned by a 3-D camera (or designed from scratch on a computer) and carved in plastic by robotic arms, the possibilities are endless (smartphone case, picture frame, coffee mug, you name it). Thingiverse — a website where people can upload their own 3-D models for printing — is quickly becoming popular (just print your toys instead of paying for shipping!). But it’s raising some eyebrows. Many are scanning popular action figures and either tweaking them (Yoda-bust flower vases, anyone?) or providing printable original models, which could lead to copyright lawsuits from companies owning the rights to the designs.

3-D Printers and Copyright Infringement

Making and selling counterfeit goods — even if you tweak them slightly — is illegal, so don’t do it. While it’s not illegal to make your own sculpture of Mickey Mouse to display in your home, the ability to carve the thing from a model should only be sold to you by those with the rights to the goods. It’s also important, should you start developing your own artwork, that you register your own items to keep them from being stolen.

But What About Guns?!

It is perfectly legal to produce any kind of weapon you could ordinarily legally own, as long as you are are not prohibited from possessing firearms in the first place and as long as you don’t intend to sell the weapons. But before you get too excited (or panicked about your crazy neighbor setting up a large shop out back) realize that home firearm manufacture is still quite far off. Getting a homemade gun to fire accurately, and without blowing up in one’s face is still a bit tricky for 3-D printers, let alone new gun makers. While the technology will likely improve — making for more ease in obtaining firearms of illegal design and even undetectability (so much for metal detectors) — we’re not there yet.