What if anyone could print a gun at home, using a 3-D printer and a standard nail? Last week, a law student in Austin, Texas made headlines when he proved that his design for a 3-D-printed gun could successfully fire. He wasn't the first to share templates for a 3-D-printed gun online, but in the past, experts have argued that a fully-printed gun would shatter in action. Though this one didn't work with a rifle cartridge, it survived a test with a .380 caliber bullet. In theory, it just got a whole lot easier to have an illegal weapon. A plastic weapon, no less, that would be more likely to make it past something like airport security.
Websites that share 3-D printing blueprints can refuse to post guns or gun parts, but just like music files or Game of Thrones episodes, once something is out there, it's not really possible to banish it from the internet. And 3-D printers themselves aren't going anywhere. People will still want to use 3D printers for good—say, printing out spare parts to repair a broken toy instead of throwing it away, or designing custom products for themselves. This seems like a very tricky thing to regulate. Even if someone needed a license to operate a 3-D printer, they'd still be easy to access.
There aren't easy answers here. In the United States, we have seen time and again how easy it is for unscrupulous people to get their hands on guns, but what will this mean in other parts of the world? And while this particular gun may be more of a prototype than a real weapon, what will happen as the tech continues to develop?