Smart Tech and 3D Printing Will Be Game-Changers for Firearms

Disruptive technologies are, at their core, groundbreaking. They change the course of an industry or create new industries altogether. They displace established technologies and have a far-reaching social impact. Digital media, smartphones, social media, and cloud computing can all be considered disruptive technologies.

But once the initial disruption takes place, these markets go about a normal evolutionary path, and the technology trickles down until it reaches the point of ubiquity.

Such is the case for two of the newer additions to the pantheon of disruptive technologies; smart tech and 3D printing. While they’re still far from the realm of saturation, these technologies have found their way into a very interesting domain—weaponry.  

Smart guns and 3D printing: A case of the good, the bad and the ugly

The idea behind smart guns is a good one. These guns use biometrics or RFID technology so that they can only be fired by their registered owner or user.

But sadly, the concept seems to be stuck in the idea phase. CNET recently reported that these guns have been all but absent from recent trade shows. And Ben Fox Rubin and Terry Collins write that it’s not a demand issue; it’s fervent opposition from the gun world.

“A vocal contingent of gun owners see smart guns as a potential form of gun control,” write Rubin and Collins. They also cite Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who focuses on the Second Amendment and gun control, saying there is concern that if smart guns take off, the technology could become a requirement for all guns. While many people see this as a good thing, there is the obvious contingent of anti-regulation activitists who oppose it, which has stopped smart guns in their tracks. 

3D printing has seen more success when it comes to weaponry. 3D printed guns first appeared about three years ago, and since then enterprising individuals have been looking for ways to make them better and make them cheaper. Just a few days ago a West Virginia carpenter released a video of an almost entirely 3D printed semi-automatic weapon. The only metal in the gun is the steel barrel, springs and bullets.

The guns are problematic for a few reasons: They don’t have serial numbers, making them nearly impossible to trace, and they’re almost undetectable by metal detectors. Steve Israel, a representative from New York, even moved to ban plastic guns in 2015, after the Transport Security Administration (TSA) failed to identify fake explosives and weapons at major airports in 67 out of 70 tests.

Both the reluctance to adopt smart guns and the fervency with which 3D printing has been snapped paints a bleak picture for the future of gun control.

In 2015, according to the 2015 Small Arms Survey, there were an estimated 875 million small arms and light weapons in circulation worldwide. And with the small arms and light weapons market expected to grow from $9.68 billion in 2015 to $12.15 billion in 2020 (a number which doesn’t include 3D printed weapons) we can expect to see an increased number of unregulated weapons in circulation.

In this case, disruptive technologies are game-changers indeed.