There’s been lots of internet chatter about a new technology that allows anyone to print out and assemble their own gun. The company that developed this interesting product, Defense Distributed, was ordered to remove the diagrams from their website but not until more than 100,000 downloads took place. In order to make the gun you need a 3-D laser printer which runs about $1,600, plus about $25-worth of plastic and yes, the gun “functions,” according to some early tests, but it’s a single-shot, 22-caliber, and it shoots but not very well.
I think that if Mike Bloomberg is really serious about spending fifty million bucks to promote more effective gun control, he should consider bankrolling a company that will find a way to cheapen the cost of the printer, which would bring down the cost of the gun to perhaps less than what Glocks and other standard guns cost now. At which point, I’ll bet you that all kinds of computer geeks will start developing software that will let people print out and assemble lots of different gun models – AR-15’s, concealable pistols – and you can kiss the gun industry goodbye.
Chances are, for technical reasons I won’t bother to explain, that the plastic gun will never work very well. But imagine the demand for such products given the fact that as long as you don’t sell the thing to someone else, you don’t need any kind of license at all. And since guns, like alcohol and tobacco, fall under excise tax regulations, you can’t really regulate home-made guns for the same reasons that someone who brews up his own wine down in his basement is not required to tell anyone what he’s doing as long as he consumes the booze himself.
But here’s the problem with home-made guns. The point of alcohol and spirits is that they are made to be used up. The problem with guns is that the damn things don’t break down no matter how often they are used. I have a Browning Hi-Power pistol that was manufactured in the Herstal factory in 1968 and it shoots as well today as when I first pulled it out of the box. Until my son “borrowed” it, I had a Colt 1911 pistol that was manufactured in 1919, and my son didn’t walk off with it because he wanted a gun that wouldn’t work. The esteemed gun researcher, Philip Cook, claimed that one-third of all crime guns recovered in Chicago were more than 20 years old.
Obama is correct. Gun folks “cling” to their guns because those guns are the only thing they ever bought that didn’t immediately break. Computers last 2-3 years, the average car has been on the road for 11 years, some of the glassware you bought last month at Crate and Barrel didn’t survive three weeks. But like that old Timex ad says, guns take a licking and keep on ticking. And not only do they keep ticking, they are also cheap as hell. I bought a new 1911 pistol in 1979 for 300 bucks. There’s an internet reseller who will deliver a 1911 pistol to your favorite local dealer for $450, which includes overnight UPS. That’s hardly a big increase in price considering that we are talking about thirty-five years.
Turning guns into mainstream consumer products has always been the dream of the NRA. And a plastic gun that kind of works is no different from the cheap iPhones and droids which also kind of work. When guns become just another cheap, disposable consumer item, they may sell like crazy but they’ll do much less harm. After all, it’s kind of tough to make people think that they can defend themselves with a gun when they know that after one or two shots they might as well throw the thing away.