We invent a machine that lets amateurs build machine guns. What happens?

Home fabrication, or 3D printing, or whatever name you call it by. The idea is that of a machine that given the raw materials and the computerized plans can produce a metal part of any desired specification. Limited and expensive ones are already available, and people are trying to produce a truly universal one, including one that can make the parts to duplicate itself. In other words, a machine that makes metalworking as easy as desktop publishing. So the day comes that you can buy such a machine at a national chain hardware outlet (or get the self-duplicated freeware version from a friend), download the specs you need, pour in some powdered steel and a few trace elements, and in a few hours have the parts to assemble into a machine gun. What happens?

Do restrictions on firearms become as unenforcible as the laws there used to be against porn? Do the authorities try to build in restrictions on what the machine can produce, like efforts at copy protection on software? Do the authorities mandate hidden spyware like in photocopiers to thwart illegal use? Does a hacker culture develop on how to produce contraband on your home fabricator? Does it become another Prohibition, with the authorities endlessly cracking down on something that can never be eradicated?

We have machines like that. That’s how machine guns are built. How much easier does it have to be? And like every other prohibited item, you can buy them already if you try hard enough.
Also, check out Neil Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age”.

A few enthusiasts make one, and discover the damn thing can go through a mortgage payment’s worth of ammo in a very short time. Then it gathers rust in the garage.

Good quality machine guns are made in factories with millions of dollars worth of metalworking tools. Crappy ones can be made with a few thousand dollars worth of basement workshop tools, provided you’re skilled at using them. And black market automatics are risky to acquire and very expensive. (Seriously, the thread about illegal guns in Mexico: cartels with established smuggling routes and millions of dollars of cash flow, and they can maybe get a few thousand handguns, a few hundred semi-autos, and a score of full-autos? Pathetic.) No, what I was thinking of was, what if some technological advance truly let the genie out of the bottle?

Unless that genie can shit ammo, not much is gonna happen.

Put another way, while I am not a welder/machinist, someone who is can probably make a fully functional mortar or small cannon fairly easily.

Anyone that wants to do just a tiny bit of research can figure out how to make any number of explosive devices. Tim McVeigh turned a Ryder Truck into a rolling bomb with diesel fuel, fertilizer, and a few other things.

Your neighbor has the basic part of a bomb that could level your house. Mostly he uses it to power his propane grill. If someone is inclined to do a really bad thing, they can find a way to do it.

You need to look at the issue a little more specifically.

  1. Will this suddenly make illegal weapons legal?**

No, they will still be illegal.

2) Will it suddenly make unavailable weapons available?

No, at least in the US automatic weapons can be obtained in a lot of places right now with a few licensing hurdles.

Moreover illegal automatic firearms are already available to anyone who wants to ask around the internet of the local bars.
3) But will it mean that criminals can suddenly get weapons that are unavailable to them?

No, they’re criminals. Criminals don’t care if they break the law, that’s why they are criminals. Assuming that they want the weapon to kill someone, murder is already a greater offence than possession of an illegal weapon.

Criminals willing to commit murder with automatic weapons generally already have contact with people who know people. So this won’t give them anything they already want.

4) But will it mean that criminals will suddenly get easier access to weapons that are unavailable to them?

Maybe, but probably not. Depends how the technology works.

Firearms aren’t frypans. They aren’t even bicycles. They need to take enormous stresses and be machined down tho the nearest 1/10 of a millimetre. You can’t just print them out of white metal. which is what 3d printers use. You need to cast all the parts differently, then and temper them and machine them to have any hope of them not exploding when fired and to then actually hit anything.

By the time a printer gets to the stage that it can produce a firearm it will be basically printing at a molecular level. That’s not impossible of course. It’s plausible could live to see it. But when printing gets to that level then there two other factors to consider.

Firstly, firearms will be the least of your worries. If a gang banger can print at a molecular level why the hell would he print a firearm rather than simply printing drugs or poisons or printing your front door key?

Secondly if people can print at a molecular level, what exactly are they going to be using the weapons for? It can’t possibly be any harder to print a car or a plasma screen TV than to print the guns to defend the turf to sell the drugs to get the money money to buy …a plasma screen TV and a car.

So the whole thing seems like a non issue.
5) But won’t it mean that when there will be lots of gun related deaths?

I can’t see why. Automatic weapons are bulkier than semi-autos, so harder to conceal. Most murders are deliberate and targetted, so automatic weapons are pointless. Gang members doing drive bys with automatic wepoans s scary, but the actual death rate form them is insignificant. In fact I would argue that the inaccuracy of auotmatic fire means that they should be encouraged to do use automatics if we want to keep the death rate down. They would be far more dangerous if they actually aimed.

I can’t see why they would be much less unenforcable than now. I don’t see any comparison with porn. The use of porn is, by itself, legal, even if the possession is illegal. Feeling horny and jerking off are not and never have been illegal. Otherwise law abiding people can and do break just that one law. That means that laws against porn or prostitution are always doomed to failure because there is no crime to discover even if the law is broken.

In contrast the use of an automatic weapon inevitably results in a serious crime that will be discovered 99% of the time. Law abiding people have no incentive to break the gun laws. So unless you are worried about people possessing firearms but never using them, I can’t see how it is any *less * enforceable than today. If the cops search your house and you have an illegal weapon or plans thereof, you are convicted of a serious crime. If you obtain the weapon for committing a specific crime and dispose of it afterwards the it is no different to what happens today.

The only possible difference I can see is that wannabes might keep an automatic weapon around to look cool, instead of a handgun. Big deal. Automatic fire is actually less dangerous than aimed fire. I’d rather they had a SMG that they coudl get no range time with, than a pistol or longarm that they just might practice with.

It’s impossible to predict technology, but it’s hard to see how this could be done without rendering the machine useless. As I said above, we aren’t talking about white metal, we’re talking about molecular printing. Unless you render the machine incapable of printing anything but pre-approved patterns how can you possibly stop me?

I think they’d have a hard time getting a judge to sign off on constant wiretaps for everybody in the country. Because that is what you are talking about, No?

Without a doubt. But guns won’t be the hot item. Someone’s crack latest I-phone will be.

Trying to predict future society is a mug’s game, but it’s hard to see how this could happen. You have constitutional protections of your privacy. They could only possibly get you when the information is shared over public networks. But we know that just direct person to person transmission would work to stifle this sort of nonsense. Once one person has the latest x-box plans they would give to all their friends and within hours the whole world would have it. the only time the authorities could even know about it is if they search you/tap your phones for another reason.

Prohibition worked kinda because alcohol had to be physically transported and people wanted payment. If the same bottle of whisky could have been duplicated endlessly and sent over the phone lines, and people were prepared to do so for free, then prohibition would never have even been proposed.

How many people are going to want these free and easy machine guns, and why? Sure, I might add a couple to my firearm collection, and after shooting them a few times would put them away like the others for occasional use. But people who don’t own weapons now are not going to start.

What is the market for free/easy machine guns really? The same ratio of “good” people to “bad” people will still exist. I can’t imagine that all the bad people are being held back from acting out by the lack of machine guns. They already can find the tools they want. “Well, I’ve been wanting to ramp up my life of crime but, damn, having to keep pulling that trigger all the time has just kept me from it, but now I’ve got a machine gun and it’s one pull only.”

And I don’t believe that sudden anarchy will find the rest of us good people gunning down each other in the streets like some B movie.

A brief adjustment to the new idea of “so you can get a machine gun if you want one” and then back to normal life.

Israel was able to mass produce the STEN machine gun in 1948. If you want a back yard AK-47, then head to the Khyber Pass. Making guns, even machine guns, is a lot easier than a lot of people would like to believe.

If you let the genie out of the bottle, machine guns may not be the biggest problem. But people will just gather together as usual and prevent most people from getting a device that can make machine guns, and do what they can about the rest, leaving the situation much like today, but with the same problems magnified. Consider that ‘night vision’ for cell phones is alleged to be on the horizon. With that, what advantage do those cool looking goggles give to our commandos anymore? So we’ll get some answers to your question before long.

There are real bars to acquiring fully automatic weapons today. It’s not something you can do without personal risk. Having a home fabricator that can produce a fully automatic weapon will mean that they will be much, much more available. And it will be very easy. I would expect as a matter of course all organized crime and gangs will have Glock 18s or whatever is the equivalent sexy machine pistol of the day.

Fuck a machine pistol. Short range weapon, limited magazine capacity. One guy with a deer rifle can keep a squad of pistol guys at bay as long as he has range on them. People that are serious about machine guns will be making belt-fed .50 or 20 MM versions. Some might make .30 versions, chambered for more easily obtainable ammo. A belt fed 12 gauge, loaded with buckshot, would be a pretty awesome thing to have for short range defense…

For that matter, in a real fight, you have a lot more to fear from a guy that can put a round in a gnat’s ass at 200 yards with a deer rifle than you do from a guy spraying full rock and roll with an AK and wasting his ammo.

Let’s assume the law keeps up and says that possession of the replicator data for an item is the same as possession of the item itself, which it is for all intents and purposes. Why then is the risk less? It’s still illegal to possess. You’re still going to have to deal with shifty characters to get them. You’re still going to have to run risks asking for the things.

Stuff like phones I can see everybody disseminating by email. But an automatic weapon? Even the most ardent gun owners would be pissed off with you if you sent them an illegal automatic weapon by post without any warning.

So how exactly is asking someone for these plans different for asking them for the weapon itself? Why is the risk lower?

Only if those are the rules you create for your magic replicator.

And as I said above, once a replicator gets to the level of making a firearm easily it will be able to manufacture *anything *easily. An automatic weapon is one of the most complicated, low tolerance things in the world to make. It really does require manufacture at the molecular level.

If you have a replicator that is capable or reproducing not just gross structure but actual molecular structure, then why the hell do you want an automatic firearm? It’s less than useful for home defence, and there is no point in controlling drug turf when everybody in the world can replicate stuff at the molecular level.

But once again, why do these gangs exist? What are they ganging up for? The world has a machine that can replicate stuff at molecular level, much cheaper than a $100 weapon and and portable enough for a gang to own. So why does the gang exist and for what reason do they need firearms?

I’m just not getting this.

I don’t know whether people are grossly underestimating how complicated it is to make an automatic firearm, or how radically society would be changed by a device capable of easily making one. A machine that can replicate a device with dozens of parts, all of which have tolerances of hundredths of millimetre, all of which necessarily have completely different molecular structures. That machine can replicate anything at all.

And one criminal with a machine pistol can steal pretty much whatever he wants and dominate any police first response.

I know a rifle is better, at some times, but a concealable machine pistol is a perfect weapon for a criminal.

Sure. That doesn’t do much good for a criminal unless they are attacking non-civilians. The problem is you create a situation where you can have whatever gun you want with almost no risk.

So? What does that matter? You do know that automatic weapons are useful, right? Are you seriously suggesting that they are less dangerous in general than a deer rifle? Why don’t you call the Pentagon and tell them that they’re wasting their time with their current weapons, they should immediately outfit with deer rifles?

This is not true. With the exception of a selector switch an NFA AR-15 looks exactly the same as a semi-automatic AR-15. The same goes for all of the other weapons with a full-auto counterpart.

Also, they get much smaller than that. I think you’ll find that a Glock 18 or a Beretta Model 93R is quite concealable.

That said, a repeal of the Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, the statute that closed the registry (and thus civilian production) of automatic weapons would not make a dent in crime, either pro or con. From 1934 to date there have been two (count 'em, two) murders with a legally possessed automatic weapon, one of which was committed by a police officer.

As to the specific question from the OP, the courts have already addressed that in the case of United States v. Rock Island Armory (1991). From Wikipedia (with external citation):

This seemingly allows someone to manufacture a machine gun for their own use.

Last, along those same lines: The Montana Firearms Freedom Act, one of many similar laws either approved or proposed in the United States. Since Congress’ authority under the National Firearms Act of 1934 is derived from their ability to regulate interstate commerce, it occurred to state lawmakers that weapons that could only be transferred intrastate cannot be regulated, and as such can be legally made and possessed within the state where they are manufactured in accordance with these laws. It remains to be seen whether or not these laws will stand up in court, however.

As you can see, people have been making quasi-legal machine guns for a while now, and steps are being taken to re-open the registry that already exists which would make manufacture legal on a large scale once again, simultaneously making them quite affordable for the average citizen should such a repeal happen. But since legally owned machine guns under those circumstances would need to be registered and people who register them are (with one exception) law-abiding citizens that do not commit crimes with them, it hardly seems a big deal in any case.

It the typical “scary looking gun is scary” crowd. Note that no one cares how easy it is to make a fully functional improvised explosive device. A guy could make a really big bomb out of stuff he bought at Wal Mart and Home Depot. Or the local Feed & Seed store and the gas station. Hell, in about a week, you’ll be able to buy enough explosives to raise some serious hell at fireworks stands around the country, assuming you’re willing to doctor them up a bit, and maybe add some shrapnel, etc.

It’s less because it’s the intarweb. They will be available and they are tiny electronic files. It’s tough to ship guns, but you can email the template files.

Sure, but there is bittorent, Russian websites and any number of places you can get the files. Not to mention, someone will post an AR-15 file and someone else will post an altered sear. Digital conversion kits. It’ll happen.

Because to sell a gun you have to ultimately be carrying it. People won’t even sell the template programs because some douche will pour it all over the internet.

That is laughably silly. Cell phones are much harder than a gun. A gun is made of parts that are uniformly one material (The parts that is, not the whole gun). The precision of a reasonably advanced replicator will be vastly in excess of what a firearm needs. A M1911 was created with machining technology from a century ago, you can’t seriously be arguing that a prototyper from a couple decades down the line will be worse than that?

You’re creating the false choice here by waving your hand and saying that firearms need molecular precision. They do not.

You are again, creating the silly notion that the replicator is molecular in scope. This is not true. This is a gross misunderstanding of the situation on your part.

I know.

It just has to be able to create the individual pieces one at a time.

When was the last time someone robbed a bank with a fertilizer bomb? I assume you’re arguing that we should be able to create fully automatic weapons with no controls?

Is that the case?

I should mention, I’m not particularly anti-gun, but I do think fully automatic weapons in the hand of every gang-banger on Earth is a bad thing. If you don’t agree, well, I guess I don’t share your rosy view of the universe. :smiley:

You remember Tim McVeigh, right? He did a helluva lot more damage with his fertilizer bomb than he could have done with a machine pistol.

What I don’t get is why you care what kind of guns someone else has. Either he’s gonna kill you, which is illegal, or he isn’t. If he wants to kill you, you’re going to be just a dead if he uses a muzzle loader as you would be with an automatic weapon.

Or maybe, you have equal, possibly superior, firepower of your own to defend yourself, and he decides to go shoot at somebody else instead.

We are talking about the scenario in the OP. We aren’t talking about your irrational views of gun proliferation.