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3D Printing and The Bugman

To the bugman, all systems are reduced to their symbolic components. Thus 3D printing, in memetic form, is a perfect fit for his conceptualization of reality. “You push the button on the box to make the thing come out.” The messy work of what actually happens in there, what can actually be produced, and what the resultant object is actually capable of, is beyond him - all entities are reduced to neat boxes in a UML diagram. Missing a component? Printing machine broke, understandable, come back tomorrow.

“But what if you 3D printed a gun! This guy Cody Wilson just won this court case and he’s handing out files to make secret AR-15s in your basement, there’s already like a thousand guys that downloaded the files, and this other group is suing him to stop it!”

Even though this is scary subject matter, the bugman feels comfortable inside this narrative structure. The machine needs some plans in order to make the dangerous thingy; there is a man who wants to put the plans on the internet, but the authorities will maybe stop him. I bet this is Drumpf’s fault for not stopping him. Where do the plans come from? I guess the same place apps come from—he’s trying to build like an app store. That’s what they’re trying to shut down, right?

If you explain to them that common 3D printed materials are extremely structurally weak compared to the 25000 PSI of pressure that even a weak 22LR round (used for hunting squirrels) generates; that you can do better with melted beer cans and a Dremel; that the blueprints and jigs modified for home manufacturability have been widely available for decades, mostly invented by hobbyists who figured them out from scratch and aren’t going to be stopped by a lawsuit over ITAR regulations: congratulations—you are now an evil wizard. The diagram is no longer descriptive of reality. Instead you threaten to loom over it, poking out effects devoid of neat causes, just because it was fun, like some demon out of its salt circle.

Cody Wilson is happy to play the villain of CNN’s very stale narrative for PR purposes, but in truth his ethos should be more horrifying to the bugman than they let on. The actual designs he’s currently publishing don’t particularly matter; if anything, adding the problems of CNC alignment and maintenance, the capital outlay for milling machines, computers, etc, makes his route to building guns far more complicated than purchasing a hunnit dolla problem solva (legally or illegally), or using the existing specialty jigs for standard designs.

What Wilson and people like him are doing is fostering a community of people exchanging information and feedback—people working around the very severe limits of various 3D printing and milling mediums and machines, experimenting with alternate materials and techniques from milled aluminum to stamped sheet steel, cast brass, laminates, novel designs with various levels of homemade parts, reuse of discarded parts kits, and so on. In other words, people forming community bonds and inventing new technologies that address the problems they personally have, to produce functional and aesthetic objects.

You simply cannot have an ongoing controllable process where one node is “and then a group of men solves problems”; it’s like when your raptors begin asexually reproducing and no longer obey your kill switch. They could come up with anything! And if they get good at doing dangerous things together, isn’t that kind of dangerous?

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