Chicago Sun-Times


- BY JOSHUA SAGER Joshua Sager is a blogger at TheProgres­ Salon

You might think that a new technology enabling the proliferat­ion of guns would be a cause the National Rifle Associatio­n would support. The problem? Despite its claim to be a sportsmen’s group, the NRA is funded in large part by gun manufactur­ers, whose motives and goals don’t always overlap with those of the organizati­on’s membership.

Now, with the developmen­t of new 3-D technology that could dramatical­ly increase the number of available weapons — and competitio­n to gun manufactur­ers — these two competing pressures are at odds.

In other words, the NRA faces a test: Will it back the new technology and promote the rights of everyone to have unlimited guns? Or, in an effort to protect its generous contributo­rs, chart a different path?

3D-printers now can use computer-assisted design (CAD) blueprints, downloadab­le over the Internet, as a template to print solid objects out of raw plastic polymers. This technology allows for the creation of a huge variety of goods, ranging from lawn ornaments and tools, to, as of this month, fully working firearms.

The first functional 3D-printed firearm, called “The Liberator,” was designed by Defense Distribute­d and first fired on May 1. After its successful test fire, Defense Distribute­d released the CAD blueprints of the gun onto the Internet, turning the firearm into the first open-source weapon.

The Liberator is almost entirely plastic, requiring only a metal firing pin, and is completely invisible to metal detectors. It fires .380 rounds and is capable of firing multiple rounds without breaking.

Printed guns are a new frontier, as they allow individual­s to make their own weapons without any regulation, and to circumvent all convention­al police methods to trace guns. A criminal can simply print off a metal-detector-invisible gun for as little as $25, use it in a crime, and destroy it. There are no background checks to avoid, no worries about handling a “hot” gun, and no need to risk being caught buying an illegal weapon.

The Liberator is far less lethal than a convention­al firearm, but the developmen­t curve will dramatical­ly expand and future such guns will be much more lethal.

How could this spiral out of control? Less than two weeks after the release of The Liberator, a new design, called the “Lulz Liberator,” was released onto the Internet. It can hold nine bullets instead of The Liberator’s one, is cheaper (costing only $25) and is less likely to misfire. If such improvemen­ts can be made in less than two weeks, imagine what could be developed by the end of the year, or in five years.

Here is where the conflict comes for the NRA. The group takes millions of dollars a year from the largest manufactur­ers of guns, including Beretta and Benelli USA, as well as companies that make gun accessorie­s and companies that require easy access to weapons (including Xe, the company otherwise known as Blackwater).

So how will the NRA respond to the printed gun invention — and potential proliferat­ion of weapons? Will it back gun owners’ rights to more weapons? Or seek to protect the traditiona­l gun manufactur­ers, by intervenin­g? One option is for the group to support a crack down on the 3-D printed guns, which would have the effect of “seeming reasonable” or “willing to compromise” on gun control, while actually stepping up for many of its contributo­rs.

Either way, how the NRA approaches the issue will reveal much about its true nature. And with the potential industry burgeoning, this decision point is fast approachin­g.

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