The 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?
Wilson 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.
Wilson in his early 30s is a self-described anarchist once named one of the most dangerous men in the world because of his attempts to disseminate information showing how to make a printable and untraceable gun.
His company, Defense Distributed, creates gun designs that can be downloaded by anyone anywhere, 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 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.
People 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.
Who are the Gun lovers in the Middle East?
According to the 2007 Small Arms Survey (links to PDF), 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.
Update 2020, Cody Wilson probably thinks if he can show the world how to be an anarchist he can do whatever he likes outside the bounds of social norms. He was arrested last year for having sex with a minor and is currently barred from carrying his own gun. His Austin-based business is still running, and now he has produced a machine that can mass manufacture guns and nothing will get in his way, including the law, he has told various news outlets.