American Culture

Showdown looming between the NRA and 3-D printed guns

LiberatorGunThere’s about to be a really interesting showdown: the NRA versus 3-D printed guns. The NRA had its national convention during the first weekend in May in Houston. NRA Vice-President Wayne LaPierre proclaimed, “We will never back away from our resolve to defend our rights and the rights of all law-abiding American gun owners.” Well, Wayne, we’ll just see about that. Because this year the NRA convention took place on the weekend between the publication of the Forbes article, “Meet The ‘Liberator’: Test-Firing The World’s First Fully 3D-Printed Gun,” and the release of the blueprints for the gun for use with home 3-D printers.

The incoming President of the NRA, Jim Porter, is the down-home type that the NRA hopes its members can identify with: pot-bellied, baseball cap wearing, southern, white, middle-aged. If you haven’t seen this video of Jim, you really ought to–his thoughts on the “War of Northern Aggression” are worth a minute of your time. After all, that’s what the NRA is about, right? Protecting the rights of the little guy to legally acquire, carry around, and play with an arsenal. Baloney.

We know that’s not the whole story because standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jim is Wayne LaPierre. And Wayne is not only NRA VP, he’s also its CEO. He’s the real power. He’s the one who has been steering the NRA closer to the Koch Brothers, Crossroads GPS, and other conservative sources of Big Money:

The Violence Policy Center has estimated that since 2005, gun manufacturers have contributed up to $38.9 million to the NRA. Those numbers, however, are based on publicly listed “sponsorship” levels on NRA fundraising pamphlets. The real figures could be much bigger. Like Crossroads GPS or Americans for Prosperity, or the Sierra Club for that matter, the NRA does not disclose any donor information even though it spends millions on federal elections. (The Nation)

That’s right: the NRA, not surprisingly, has close ties to gun manufacturers. I wonder how happy they are going to be about “gun owners” becoming “gun printers?” My guess is: not very.

If the NRA were really about the protecting the rights, freedoms, and privacy of the “little guy,” the average American gun owner, then they would be all about supporting printed guns. After all, what’s more off-the-radar than printing your own gun? No registry. No background check. But also, no profit. So we’ll see how egalitarian the NRA really is.

One of the many ironies in this situation is that the British had prohibited manufacturing in the US of items that were manufactured in the UK, including guns. Dissatisfaction over not being able to make guns (amongst many goods), was a contributing factor to the American Revolution. And we all know how important references to the Founding Fathers, the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution are to the NRA. Given that level of emphasis on American founding principles, the contortions that will have to take place to justify the NRA opposing 3-D printed guns will be really interesting to watch.

12 replies »

  1. Or will it go the other way? Porter has stated that he wants Americans to have guns, in part, so that they can take up arms against a tyrannical government (statutes on treason notwithstanding). Will they now try to take down the laws banning undetectable plastic guns? Machine guns? Etc.?

    The money will win out, but it will be very interesting if they come out against 3D printing of weaponry. My guess is that they’ll try to “wish it into the cornfield” or at least hope it stays on the fringe.

  2. @SeattleAuthor: You might be right–it could go the other way. On the other hand, it could lead to a split like the one we’re seeing in the GOP (magnified in Ohio) between the ones who are sticking to “principles” (maybe the hardcore pro-privacy gun owners) and the ones who want to win elections (the leadership and Big Money). The fault lines here could be phenomenal.

  3. I will be watching as well but I bet they come down on the side of following the law. Not printing weapons that are against the law like automatic parts to make AR 15s fully auto and not infringing on patent etc. and in suppor too the freedom to print anything legal within that boundary.

    • But what is “the law?” Seems to be fluid–especially when you spend millions on lobbying. If you had influence over the law, where would you want the law to come down?

      • I will amend what I said to “current laws”. If I had that influence I would do away with laws that restrict the defensive or responsible recreational use of guns and enforce and support laws against those who use guns in the commission of crimes. Guns don’t bother me. I spent 26 years in the Special Forces in the Army and I’ve used them in violence and I now what they can do. And I support responsible ownership. Lobbies don’t bother me either. I for example support lobbies that support Vets. The reason lobby’s can spend millions is because they represent like minded people. NRA or Handguns Inc who oppose them spend the money of people who are entitled to their say. I’m against anyone who compels people to spend their money on dues etc and then not had a say in how it is spent in lobbying.

    • I think you are correct. The NRA is not driven by manufacturers money, but by the membership. It is the grass roots organizations that have driven the NRA into support of a strong Second Amendment position, and that is where the money is. Manufacturers who do not support a strong Second Amendent are driven into bankruptcy by the NRA membership and fellow travelers in the gun culture. One needs only look at the history of Smith & Wesson and Ruger over the last two decades to see this.

  4. If we are speaking to the nascent technology of 3-D printing today there is zero to worry about in some publicity seeking fool hawking free bits and bytes which with the addition of only a $10k very complicated machine and hours of time will produce a soft plastic low energy single shot one use weapon. The odds are much greater that the user will be injured by the explosive fragmentation of a poorly made example than some innocent citizen being murdered.

    If we are speaking to technology of the future then we should be discussing LASER’s, sonic disrupters, and particle beams because all three are already in some state of beta testing and LASERS in particular are being ship and aircraft mounted for field use now. Man portable units won’t be far behind and then the miniaturization process will take over.

    Anyone with a couple bucks in their pocket and a willingness to commit a felony can construct a functional multi-use zip gun in under an hour. Anyone with a lathe and simple tooling can construct far more complicated weaponry, and lathes outnumber 3-D printers somewhere on the order of 5000 to 1.

    This reminds me of the puritanical response to Janet Jackson showing a nipple…what actual net effect on society does it have?

    • You make some good points–but nascent technology will give way to more sophisticated models and production methods. Even in this early stage a well-made version without its metal insert would be difficult to detect and in the hands of the right person, a single shot (or threat thereof) could be all that’s needed. The other weapons you mention, while illegal, would be more easily detected by common security.

      As to Janet’s wardrobe malfunction, her nipple didn’t shoot bullets, so I don’t see how it’s related to a gun discussion (although I agree, the brouhaha over it was both puritanical and a distraction).

  5. Hi Cat, one possible solution is in machine software. When IBM came out with the first high resolution color printers in the 1960’s crooks immediately began printing counterfeit money with them. They would even wash/bleach $1 bills and then print them as higher denominations that had the right “feel”.

    Quite clever, and it worked for awhile until IBM and other printer manufacturers included software routines in the printers that simply refuse to print US currency. Now between that and the Bureau of Engraving adding additional security measures in printed currency that particular problem is solved.

    With 3-D printers, which are absolutely amazing game changing technology, and one day _will_ be capable of printing complex sintered metal products, similar software modification by the manufacturers may address this emerging problem. For the moment though it’s a non-starter for firearms production. Defense Distributed is one law student who bought a flea-Bay printer and is now cleverly messing with everyone’s mind.

    In perusing this site I saw a very pertinent comment by an Australian reader who said we seem to be dealing with gun control from a political perspective rather than with a logical eye to risk management. I couldn’t agree more and the biggest risk we have right now is a bunch of Jethro’s out there buying up every black gun, high capacity magazine, and round of ammo available because they are viscerally afraid of the tone and timbre of the debate.

    Widespread ownership of dangerous tools is not in and of itself cause for alarm. However our general lack of training in the safe and legal use of those tools decidedly is. If we are truly risk averse, requirements for firearms training for every gun owner would be infinitely more effective than worrying about 3-D printing and most of the other foofaraw currently on the table. Yes the NRA would fight that, fuck ’em, I’m an endowment member and I would fight them for common sense.

    …and for Sam, from a poster for “Machete Kills”…only from the minds of Hollywood!