Desai & Magliocca on 3D Printing and Guns

October 11th, 2013

Check out Gerard and Deven’s cool new article on 3D Printing and Intellectual Property law. The article has a lengthy discussion on guns and 3d Printing, a topic I have addressed at some length.

First, they argue that concerns about 3D guns is a “red herring”:

In 3D printing, the best example of the tension between desired, unexpected outcomes and risks seems to be the problem of homemade guns. We believe the gun issue is a red herring regarding possible regulation of 3D printing, but it is a great way to explore concerns about the technology.

After discussing some of the difficulties of actually creating a plastic strong enough to withstand the impact of the bullet, the authors worry about how “rapid progress” can spur legislators to regulate.

This kind of rapid progress sends shivers up the spine of public officials who want to regulate firearms. It also opens the door to legislative mischief and mistakes. Incumbent patentees may lobby Congress to pass statutes that hobble the 3D printing industry. Such efforts could use the fear of guns gone wild as a rallying cry for limits on 3D printing that stretch beyond what may be required for those limited issues. The understandable desire to prevent individuals from making untraceable or illegal guns should not cause undue alarm.

Next, the authors address several ways that 3D guns could be regulated. One way would be to regulate the materials used to print the guns:

Once 3D printers are capable of making guns that work, there will still be several ways of controlling that production. One source of regulation involves the material used to make the gun. If only a particular blend of plastic or metal can be shaped into reliable guns, then the solution is to restrict purchases of that material. If guns can be made from a common material, then the answer would be to alert law enforcement authorities when someone buys an unusually large amount of that input, much as some states do with fertilizer because terrorists can make bombs out of that.47 Neither of these steps would stop guns from being made in the home, but either one would make it harder to make them (or make many of them).

Or, control access to bullets and gunpowder.

Guns also need bullets, and even if 3D printers can make them, making gunpowder for them is another matter.48 Accordingly, policy levers other than legal restrictions on the technology itself can handle the challenges posed by the fact that 3D printers make it easier to produce guns.

This would have HUGE policy implications as many, many people choose to reload their own ammunition with store-bought gunpowder. I don’t see this as being viable at all.

Of course, the other way that 3D guns could be regulated would be to clamp down on the distribution of the 3D blueprints for these dangerous items, in a similar fashion to clamping down on pirated goods (as the authors discuss later in the article).

Finally, there is the software, which could be written by the user, acquired from a friend, or downloaded from a site that hosts CAD files.97 Those sites could be vulnerable to litigation for hosting infringing software. …

Without a DMCA for patents and trade dress, though, considerable litigation will be required to clarify the rights and responsibilities of patentees and websites.109 We think that extending the notice-and takedown rules of the DMCA is the simplest solution, because these sites are already complying with those rules for files involving copyrights.

This is the subject of an article I’m working on about the 1st and 2nd Amendments and 3D Printing. This article will be presented at a symposium on the 2nd Amendment for the Tennessee Law Review.