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Guns on Demand – Bringing 3D Printing to The Forefront.

I should start with a disclaimer of sorts – this article isn’t about the gun control debate  nor is it an argument for or against 3D printing firearms. What’s impressive is how the 3D printing of firearms has brought the technology to the forefront and been a catalyst for change in the way we interact with 3D printing.

Even though commercial 3D printers have been around since the early 80’s, most people still struggle to separate fact from fiction when thinking about 3D printing. But it’s crazy to think something that has been around for three and a half decades has only now been dubbed by some as the next industrial revolution. 

In the last 35 years we’ve hardly made a drop in the ocean of the potential of 3D printing in the consumer market. It has some pretty impressive applications in medicine and healthcare, creating limbs for amputees and even printing artificial organs. Its primary use has been accelerating development cycles in the manufacturing industry but  consumer applications are somewhat lagging. The one area that has caught the attention of the world’s media, politicians and terrified parents everywhere is the 3D printing of guns. 

This application of 3D printing is sparking debate over whether centralised gun control is a solution to escalating gun violence – perhaps not, when anyone can print a gun on a $300 printer. The associations with crime and violence that guns represent are a big part of the reason that 3D printed guns have sparked such a frenzy. Many fear 3D printers will make firearms available to the wrong people and result in an increase in violent crimes and the type of mass shootings that have blighted recent times. There is a fear that whilst today’s 3D printed guns don’t match up to ‘real’ firearms, one day they might. Case in point: we are seeing increasing innovations in 3D printed firearms.

The 3D printing of guns has prompted discussions about the laws and regulations surrounding 3D printing. Many are understandably uncomfortable with being told what they can and cannot print on their own personal printers in the privacy of their own homes. You could argue that 3D printed guns have given 3D printing some bad press. But hasn’t it just changed the way we think about how products are made and who can make them, taking some of the power from the regulated and centralised monopolies back into the hands of the consumers? 3D printing enables us to create products that meet our exact, rather than globalised needs.

3D printing has already changed the world. Guns are the most controversial example of how it’s actually happening and, love them or loathe them, they have been a catalyst for revolution and have launched the technology into the limelight. 3D printing  will to continue to change the way we play and interact with each other, the way we prepare food, the products we wear, how we travel and take photographs. It’s no longer a case of if, or even when, but are we ready for it? Can society, our views and the laws of the land keep up with the changing consumer landscape brought about by 3D printing? 

I’m sensitive to all those parents out there concerned about toy gun play as contributing to a foundation for violence. We need to address the root causes, as prohibiting guns, 3D printed at least, is not practically viable. In fact, for some, prohibiting gun play is creating a virtual obsession on the glamour of guns as a forbidden fruit, having the opposite effect.  

I’ve recently invented a “gun” that shoots mini rubber bands and it’s called The Loom Launcher, taking a poke at the idea of a 3D printed gun. It’s a crowdfunded idea bringing attention to the possibilities of 3D printing. In reality parents and even kids can now print their own toys. For those who are uncomfortable with even fictional firearms, it doesn’t have to be a gun. It can be a wand for kids to cast their spells by spreading the loom love around the house!

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