Muttering in the Rabbit Hole – The Right to Print Arms?

Photo by XtremerX.

Rick Kelly, in this article on TechCrunch, takes techno-centric paranoia to the next level when he fires away at legislation nobody has yet proposed to regulate future possible applications of 3D printers. Strangely, Kelly cites some of the very serious potential hazards — like the ability to make a functioning firearm! — with this technology but proceeds to dismiss any such consequences as secondary to any anticipated attempt to consider even thinking about maybe just possibly regulating their use. Seriously? As full-grown adults, we’re meant to imagine a scenario in which a twelve-year-old can make himself an assault rifle or some crystal meth with a printer but think, “Nope. Any attempt to address that will necessarily infringe on our basic freedoms?”

Still pimping the victory over SOPA as a win for free speech, Kelly proposes, “Either we allow for the ambiguity that freedom and unregulated 3D printing will bring, or we enforce far-reaching laws that may decrease liberty without changing results.” This is one of the most consistent dichotomies fostered by those too distracted by shiny tech toys — that all laws pertaining to cyberspace and technology can only ever be both ideologically overreaching and functionally useless. Perhaps the best example of a law that could arguably fit this profile would be Prohibition — overreaching in principle and useless in practice — but even the 18th Amendment did not result in actual restriction of freedom so much as it fostered profitable and violent criminal enterprise.

In the broadest sense, Kelly merely describes the well-known price of living in a free society — that freedom means unpredictability. Nevertheless, we do find ways to balance this risk in order to avoid complete chaos. The expectation of privacy in virtual space does not apply to those who would use the technology to do harm in physical space. That courtesy is not extended to would-be terrorists, child pornographers, or human traffickers to name a few; and yet I see no restriction of my personal freedoms as a result. Moreover, Kelly and those who think as he does would do well to remember that when a government agency has reason to stick it’s nose in someone’s business, it will likely do so with the cooperation of Web technology companies and without passing any new laws. So, rather than focus on symbolic victories over imaginary tyrants, why don’t we have a grown-up conversation about what we might be willing to do about the real twelve-year-old printing the very real assault rifle?

© 2012, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • “Why don’t we have a grown-up conversation” makes me wonder why we can’t have a rational discussion about these issues with people like Mr. Kelly? Why are there always only two choices in their minds? And then I remember the power of propaganda, and how useful it must be to their ilk to wave the flag of “Freedom.”

    Sadly, there are some points of view that one can never have a rational, respectful debate with, and disingenuous Free Culture meme riddled claptrap that tries to pass itself off as informed discourse is just one of those POVs.

    Sincerely looking forward to your posts David.

  • Totally agree with both you and Kat… why do the technopians see these issues as so black and white? This guy sounds like a one-sided lunatic.

  • Funnily enough, 3D printing has the potential to open up a much larger (and nastier) can of worms than simply the ability for someone to print a Saturday Night Special or crystal meth in their spare time. This is actually something that came up in the TCM comments a while back.

    In short, the more stuff you can print, the less you need to buy. Whoopee! Unfortunately, that means somebody’s job has become redundant. “Pah!” say the technotopians, “Price of Progress!” Which is all well and good until that someone is you.

    3D printing – especially taken to its logical engame: Star Trek-style replicators – has the potential to render a whole variety of products unsellable – with the notable exception of materials used to print with. Whoever controls those, will control the world. What are all the printer-owners going to pay with, I wonder? Switch to a service economy? That rather depends on having a large number of people with money to pay for services, which brings us right back to square one.

    I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say that this is the stuff civilisation breakdown is made off. When you take away people’s ability to make a living, the end result is heads on spikes. All the more so, if you can print said spikes in the comfort of your own home.

    I find it rather depressing that the best nerdy minds on the planet are so poorly acquainted with science fiction that they are incapable of seeing classic tropes play out before their very eyes.

    • Faza —

      Thank you very much for commenting, and I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner. I don’t believe you’re exaggerating either, to be honest. I hope you’ll continue to lend your voice to this blog.



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