Editorial: Tread carefully: 3-D printers may breed stronger criminals

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Internet? Check. Cheap materials? Check. Access to a local 3-D printer? Check. Nowadays, that’s all you need to materialize any object you may desire. While this proposes the next step of future innovation, the ability to create formidable lethal weapons is feasible, as well. Somehow, Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — have seen little issue with such an evident threat to national security.

Several months ago, a blueprint to make a lethal handgun was uploaded online, prompting more than 100,000 downloads before federal officials took action to remove the website. Yet, anyone with a stable mind can still find and download the design.

What is even more surprising is that plastic, a widely available substance, is used to create such a firearm. The ability for the device to be made entirely of plastic poses serious risks to national security: A plastic firearm is impossible to detect by metal detectors, which are often used to promote security at sporting events, schools and airports.

Democrats have proposed, to the Republicans’ dismay, a mandate for individuals making these weapons to partially assemble them with metal components in an effort to combat the metal detector issue. This is simply not enough: It is a small step that doesn’t address the potentially disastrous possibilities individuals with bad intentions possess.

The federal government has historically experienced similar issues before, but through different means. As terrorist attacks were waged in U.S. cities and communities by individuals assembling homemade explosives, the Department of Homeland Security took action by creating task forces and agencies to “enhance the [nation’s] ability to prevent, protect against, respond to and mitigate terrorist use of explosives against critical infrastructure, the private sector and federal, state, local, tribal and territorial entities,” according to the Office for Bombing Prevention’s website.

To keep in line with such precedence, the Department of Homeland Security, in connection with Congress, should pursue similar initiatives to deter potential terrorists from creating such weapons without appropriate ramifications. Namely, they should deem the creation of guns and firearms by 3-D printers illegal and considered a terrorist act.

We understand this initiative won’t necessarily prevent the act from happening — unfortunately this is the case with many deterrence-driven laws. However, the initiative would make the act more punishable for people who commit it.

To be clear: This is not an attack on the right to have a gun or a violation of a citizen’s constitutional rights. This is, however, an attempt to curb homegrown terrorism, deter catastrophic violence and limit the future breeding of better, more equipped criminals.

The technology behind 3-D printing is commendable. But using it to craft lethal weapons is problematic. To limit this, we must condemn unlawful intentions in such a way as to be clear about what constitutes a terrorist act versus an act of innovation.

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