Giving them away with cornflakes

This news story caught my eye last week, and although I haven’t lost any sleep over it, I do find the ramifications worrying.

In a nutshell, police in Manchester have found what they suspect may be the component parts of a gun, along with the 3D printer that made them. At first, they were pretty certain the parts were destined for a weapon. After closer inspection, they’re not quite so sure, and the owner of the printer swears blind that they’re simply components of the printer. Although, to misquote Mandy Rice-Davies, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Whether or not this particular case was someone trying their hand at a bit of quiet gun-making, it does beg the question of what happens when technology catches up with demand and this sort of thing really is possible. At the moment, weapons have to be made to order (slow and costly) or smuggled into the country (also slow and fraught with the possibility of getting caught). But just imagine if you could download some handy software, flick a switch, and have gun after gun after gun running off the printer in your garden shed. You wouldn’t need any specialist parts, you wouldn’t need a specialist gun-smith. All you’d need would be the base materials, the software, and an uninterrupted supply of electricity.

Last year some time the police in America really did find a gun someone had ‘printed’. The good news is that after examining the thing, experts said anyone who used it was more likely to kill themselves than any intended target. Hopefully, for now, that still applies this side of the pond as well. Let’s hope it stays that way, or that the developers of 3D printing technology build in some sort of fail-safe that prevents people using the end product for nefarious purposes. Otherwise, we could be awash with cheap guns, to the point where they’re giving them away with the proverbial breakfast cereal…

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