3D printed guns: art or technical (and moral) perversion?

3D-printed-gun-by-Cody-WilsonThe world’s first 3D printed guns (like the 3D printed gun that breached Israeli security) have landed in London’s acclaimed Victoria & Albert Museum.  Two prototype Liberator guns developed by self described “crypto-anarchist” Cody Wilson are now permanently displayed as – and I type this last word with difficulty –  art.

The artifacts are groundbreaking. The technology is stunning.  And debate sparked by these “wiki weapons” is intense. The plastic 3D guns pulled in sensational headlines for the world’s largest design museum, injecting this Victorian bastion with an incongruous dose of edginess. Brilliant marketing or an art world epic fail?

“Ugly and sinister objects demand the museum’s attention just as much as beautiful and beneficial ones do,” wrote Kieran Long, V&A senior curator of contemporary architecture, design and digital, in his monthly column for Dezeen.

So the guns demanded their attention.  And, in turn, got ours. It’s fascinating to observe how some things are deemed cool and others are not. Sanctifying weaponry as art is provocative, but what follows?

Cody Wilson 3-d gunWilson admits that while his project isn’t art, “it has an artistic sensibility about it… it’s a kind of demonstration, proof of the direction of our technical future,” he told Forbes Magazine.

His company, Defense Distributed, creates gun designs that can be downloaded by anyone anywhere, then constructed on a 3D printer. Download computer aided design (CAD) files, press print, and fire away the latest and most lethal output of the “additive manufacturing” process.

A suitable printer can be had for as little as $2,000; a plastic gun can be yours for about $25.

Last May, the US government forced Wilson to remove his blueprints from the internet.  By then the files had been downloaded over 100,000 times and shared on countless websites worldwide.  Elvis had left the building, fully armed.

3D-printed-gun-by-Cody-Wilson3D printing is poised to become a routine part of modern life. The idea of freely available designs for guns that are undetectable (by-passing metal detectors) and untraceable (no licensing or purchase trail) and that can be cheaply “printed” by anyone anywhere has terrifying implications.

Last summer a local Israeli TV show managed to get one past security into the Knesset, the country’s parliament building in Jerusalem; a shocking wake-up call to the risks this technology presents.

liberator gunPeople love guns. Americans more than others, but in the Middle East, where governments typically set strict regulations for arms possession, civilians are also impressively armed.

Gun lovers in the Middle East

According to the 2007 Small Arms Survey, Yemen is third in world rankings.

Saudi Arabia is 6th

Iraq is 7th

Oman is 17th

Bahrain and Kuwait share 18th place.

United Arab Emirates trails at 24th

Qatar is 31st

Iran is 79th and Egypt is 115th.

Tunisia is the 178th nation largely due to strict rules of gun ownership imposed by deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

All bets are off when self-manufacture joins the market. Stats such as these become obsolete, and quaint.

We have a tendency to apply our intellectual power to violence and destruction.  “When MakerBot and others developed 3-D printers, they imagined people making wonderful things that make the world a better place.  They had no concept these would be used to create weapons,” said NY Times writer Nick Bilton following his interview with Wilson, “Then you have people like Cody who come along and looks at this cute little kitten and realizes he can reprogram it to kill people.”

Is it a monstrous perversion of technology or a boon to personal freedom? It absolutely is not art.

All images of Cody Wilson and his Liberator guns from Dezeen

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