No, Really, Regulate the Bullets
Defense Distributed hopes to create a shareable digital pattern that would allow anyone with a 3D printer to build his own gun. Download the pattern, send it to print, and within minutes you have a working firearm. No background check, no waiting period. While an initial test suggested that printed guns are still somewhat flimsy, this is an initial prototype that will be refined even as the adoption of 3D printers — the “Cube” is only $1299 — increases. “How do governments behave,” Defense Distributed asks, “if they must one day operate on the assumption that any and every citizen has near instant access to a firearm through the Internet?”
Within the United States, the question has already been asked and answered: it gives up on gun violence. It sees mass shootings and weapons-related deaths that dwarf every other country. The United States is so saturated with guns that seeking to control them is futile. People own and use guns made in the early 1800s; guns made last month are on sale in stores now. We have a centuries-old accumulation of armaments that shows no sign of evaporating.
But there are two things that are needed for a gun to work: the gun and the ammunition. Limiting guns may be hopeless. So why don’t we focus on the bullets?
People have made their own guns for a long time. A ZIP gun, a crude device used in prisons and by street gangs, can be cobbled together with only a little more effort than Defense Distributed’s plastic offering. A gun can be made from any number of common household objects. But making bullets is much, much trickier. A bullet needs much more specific consideration of materials and weight and requires something that is much harder to come by: a propellant. You can make your own gunpowder, of course, but refining the process to create effective munitions is as tricky as building a simple bomb. Doable, but dangerous.