Digital bans on 3D printed guns, four years later
Banning FILES? How? Why?
Four years ago, in the context of the DiDIY (Digital DIY) project, several team members, including me, discussed a legal ban on digital DIY files in Australia. I repost here today the main points that I and others made in that discussion, together with some links to successive developments.
Ban digital files! Or not?
In 2015 the New South Wales police department “were, not surprisingly, shocked at being able to make weapons so expediently and affordably [with 3D printers”, and consequently decided the danger is not in the physical objects, but in their digital description. As a result, the NSW Parliament defined a new offence, that would prohibit “the possession of a digital blueprint for the manufacture of a prohibited weapon on a 3D printer or on an electronic milling machine. The offence is to carry a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.”
Arguments againt the bill, 2015
These news sparked a debate in the DiDIY team, whose main point was:
“Would such legislation be likely to stop anyone really serious to produce an unregistered firearm?”
In that debate, we of the Free Knowledge Institute argued that:
- Regardless of such bills, both the Internet and traditional libraries are and will remain full of blueprints or equivalent resources to make DIY weapons
- If having a blueprint to make a DIY firearm with 3D printing on one’s computer is a criminal offence, then why making a digital or paper copy of the Web pages returned by a simple web search for DIY guns should be any different?
- How to handle the case when firearm components are shared individually?
- Even the machines to produce anything from parts of firearms to… machines to produce those parts are available off the shelf, or as Open Source Hardware designs
- In general, unenforceable legislation is likely to just harm the reputation of lawmakers, police and courts
The real, bigger problem
Let’s ignore questions like “who gets to decide what information is considered dangerous?”
The real problem here is the principle that, in addition to actually owning, using or doing something dangerous, even the mere act of possessing information or instructions about how to build or do something dangerous is a reason to go to prison.
“Information or instructions about how to build or do something dangerous” is everywhere, in all forms and for many uses, both absolutely legitimate, from fantasy novels and trekking manuals to the Unabomber manifesto or Breivik’s European Declaration of Independence.
Under the principle in that bill, a teacher or parent could not read those texts to figure out how to prepare their children to recognise and reject such madness.
And the bigger, underlying problem
We are living in a transition from centralised to distributed networks, which has a profound impact on our way of life.
Such a change means we have to understand the risks ourselves and take responsibility for the things we do, self-organise and work together, bottom-up instead of top-down.
Prohibition of filesharing has already been proved unenforceable.
Better solutions may be based on controlling the distribution of certain critical parts or materials and possible discouraging measures.
Other reactions to the NSW ban
In November 2019, I have found almost nothing online about the practical effects of that NSW ban (if you have any link, please add it in the comments or email me, thanks). I have, however, found an August 2018 piece on [“Everything you need to know about 3D-printed guns in Australia in which PhD researcher at the University of Adelaide Richard Matthews makes very similar points. In general, Matthews disagrees with the need for regulatory movement against the 3D printing process being used to print other items, because:
“We need to be careful about what we define as legal and not in the control of the free flowing of information”
“If you can say that you’ve got a bona fied reason to have in your possession a 3D model of a firearm, say you’re a gunsmith or you’re a researcher in this field, then it’s perfectly acceptable for you to have these firearms in your possession”
“However if you’re just a general member of the public with no reason to have them in your possession, then that’s when questions should start being asked.”
Interesting, uh? As further reference and food for thought, here is more reading material:
- From the DiDIY project, in 2015/ 2017:
- from me:
- EU research on digital DIY “vs” gun control becomes even more relevant
- (unbelievable, tragically funny) Smarter guns for dumber gun control