Good News: US Congressman Is Against DRMing 3D Printers To Stop Them From Making Guns

Last week, US Congressman Steve Israel made some unsettling comments about 3D printers, and how they can be used to make guns. Fearing another luddite legislator, I decided to do something crazy: actually talk to him. Turns out, we don’t have that much to be afraid of.

Some background: the congressman was speaking at an airport security terminal, discussing the threat of 3D-printed plastic guns that wouldn’t set off a metal detector. He was using this to drum up support for a renewal of the Undetectable Firearms Act, which bans any kind of gun that won’t make the security devices go bleep-bleep if you bring them into an airport. Now, this is a fairly silly law; as far as I know there’s no evidence that a working gun without any metallic parts has ever been built, nor has a feasible design been proposed. But at least it’s a benign dumb law.

My concern was that the next step would be a crackdown on 3D printers themselves, using some sort of DRM-like method to try and prevent them from printing gun parts. It wouldn’t, of course, and only succeed at causing a whole lot of other problems (as DRM is wont to do).

Conveniently, I live in Steve Israel’s district, giving me priority access to discuss the issues with him. In the end, I was only able to schedule a talk with one of his advisors — not the man himself — but talking to congressional staffers tends to be equivalent to speaking with the legislator whom they serve. The goal of my talk: convince the congressman that the threat of more guns was not worth crippling 3D printers with a Digital Restriction Mechanism.

Luckily, I seemed to mostly be preaching to the choir. Turns out his staff has read a great deal of the backlash on the Internet, and they’re aware that restricting 3D printers themselves would cripple innovation. The congressman doesn’t want to DRM printers, and it doesn’t look like he’d be for it in the future. All he wants to do is make it illegal to build a working firearm from home-printed parts.

Now, this isn’t a particularly good idea either. Criminals won’t listen. The law will only inconvenience law-abiding gun owners who want to make their own firearms instead of buying from a manufacturer. Banning 3D-printed guns will do less to protect the public than it will to protect Smith & Wesson from competition. So that would suck. But at least it wouldn’t cripple the entire technology.

What the congressman’s staff hadn’t considered was the future possibility of literally every large company that manufactures anything at all lobbying for DRM to kill competition. I predicted a future scenario of home 3D printers restricted to only print things from, say, the Apple Object Store — with a cumbersome approval process that favored established manufacturers. It would be illegal to get around this restriction because, well, guns! I dropped a reference to the copyright industry’s history of scapegoating child porn to make DRM and censorship seem palatable; if they’d exploit child abuse, I argued, why wouldn’t the manufacturing industry exploit gun violence?

Hopefully, Congressman Israel is now prepared to take this crap with a grain of salt, when it inevitably comes up. Assuming the congressman and his staffers are on the same wavelength, we now have an ally in the US House of Representatives who’ll fight against crippling DRM on 3D printers. And maybe someone with a more realistic approach to gun control too; the staffer seemed receptive to the idea that gun control won’t be possible in a decade or two.

Unfortunately, this means I just lobbied Congress. That makes me me a lobbyist. I need to go take a shower now.

zacqary.adam.xeper

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Discussion

  1. Michal T

    I suppose the point of making it illegal to make or sell 3D-printed plastic guns isn’t to stop criminals from making them, but to allow the law enforcement to arrest anyone caught with such gun without having to prove intent to use it in an unlawful way, which is more difficult.

    1. Zacqary Adam Green

      The flipside is that it criminalizes lawful use. Want to save some money on a new pistol for competition shooting? Tough luck. Gotta buy one from a licensed manufacturer.

      1. Caleb Lanik

        To say nothing of the fact that making one’s own firearms has always been legal in the US, provided it conforms with all other laws about e.g not being fully automatic. Why change a 200 year old precedent because at some point in the future guns might possibly be made without the use of metal? Give them an inch…

        1. Zacqary Adam Green

          When you start talking about changing 200-year precedents, you open yourself up to criticism about all the other centuries-old precedents that we eventually abolished for the good of society as a whole. Not that that’s a good argument in this case, but having the best argument isn’t always what gets you ahead in politics, now is it?

          What I’d prefer to focus on is the fact that 3D printers are going to open up a whole new renaissance in home and local manufacturing, and that its restriction will only protect entrenched corporations and force people to keep buying from them. That’s not something we should be doing. And to the anti-gun crowd, I’d go on to say: do you really want to give lobbyists for gun manufacturers more money to play with?

  2. Björn Persson

    Did anyone pay you to talk to the congressman’s advisor? You’re not a lobbyist if you did it in your own time.

    1. Zacqary Adam Green

      If anyone clicks the Flattr button on this post I guess I’m screwed.

  3. Anyone

    lobbying by itself is fine
    when it comes with bribes – I mean “campaign contributions” – it becomes bad

  4. […] Last week, US Congressman Steve Israel made some unsettling comments about 3D printers, and how they can be used to make guns. Fearing another luddite legislator, I decided to do something crazy: actually talk to him. Turns out, we don’t have that much to be afraid of.[…]  […]

  5. Just me

    Really crazy, “plastic gun” doesn’t exist and won’t exist for many, many years. It’s just 30 years old hoax. Man named Gaston Glock made gun with plastic body and some idiots (who never saw that gun) assumed that this gun won’t show at scenners (without trying, of course). Then Hollywood takes it’s place and makes up plastic gun “as we knou it”.

  6. Hephaestus

    When anybody can purchase all the parts needed to build a 3d printer, passing a law requiring DRM doesn’t work. Also, with the resolutions of the next generation of extrusion head printers you can spend a week and print out all the parts except the print head and the electronics, and those can be cobbled together easily.

    1. Zacqary Adam Green

      It would work unless hackers step up their public education efforts. iPhone jailbreaking is still fringe just because most people don’t know how to do it, or are afraid of doing it if they are. It’s not illegal anymore (in the US at least) for personal use, but awareness hasn’t followed.

      What laws do inhibit is the running of a business around helping people jailbreak their machines, and make running a non-profit organization for that into a scary legal grey area. They also keep individuals who do it in the shadows, preventing the practice from becoming mainstream. It’s easy to forget that most computer/phone users have no idea what DRM is, let alone how to break it.

      Rick explained this at length a while back.

  7. Someone

    There is no law requiring DRM for CNC mills and lathes and similar technology in order to prevent them from making gun parts (metal ones, add to that), so why should there be one for 3d printers?

  8. Autolykos

    Couldn’t the “3D-Printers can make guns” story be used as an argument *for* them, at least in the US?
    There’s a xkcd for everything: http://xkcd.com/504/

  9. Morten

    I generally comment on this page against it’s anti-IP agenda, but now I want to comment that I am most definitely against any mandatory DRM scheme. On anything.

  10. Matthew Barich

    “Now, this is a fairly silly law; as far as I know there’s no evidence that a working gun without any metallic parts has ever been built, nor has a feasible design been proposed.”

    A working 3D printed gun has now been made, and is available for download from The Pirate Bay. It has no metal parts except for a common nail used for the firing pin.

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&ved=0CE4QqQIwAg&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.huffingtonpost.com%2F2013%2F05%2F17%2Fcolbert-bashes-3d-printed-gun-manufacturers_n_3293304.html&ei=ciGZUZm-NMmzyAGyuoHICA&usg=AFQjCNEmkv0b-DK9aMxhmFkDhWNub22Bag&sig2=Rqk458UNiJaeAIPGmgAk1w

    But there is no way that DRM could tell if the parts of a gun were being printed.

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