About 16 minutes in to his latest podcast Scott Adams discusses some conversations he's had on 3D printed guns and his thoughts on their impact on society.

The whole video is a bit over a half hour, covers a variety of topics in the news today, but his thoughts on 3D printed guns is about 10 minutes of it, again starting about 16 minutes in.

One thing he discusses is the concept of "friction" that can be imposed on the use of 3D printers to create a workable firearm. Many of which I agree with. The first thing that imposes "friction" on the common use of a 3D printer for creating a working firearm is that current technology does not allow for all parts of a firearm to be printed, the barrel being the most obvious.

A bit of an aside:
There have been 3D printers made that can print a handgun barrel, but these are extremely expensive and large making this an impractical means to produce a firearm. This would certainly not be used to mass produce them in anything but the most unlikely circumstances.

What Mr. Adams proposes to increase this friction in using a 3D printer is a restriction on the printer from being able to print any firearm parts. He proposes this being a restriction imposed by the government or by the printer manufacturer. He believes this being easy to enforce through means much like how Apple must first approve of the distribution of any software or music on their stores.

Where I believe he is mistaken on the ease of this enforcement is that he equates the plans to print a part as software to be run as opposed to a music file that is played. Getting a music file into an iPhone or iPod from somewhere other than the Apple store is trivial but getting an unapproved program onto such requires technical skill that most people do not have.

Here's where I disagree with Mr. Adams, the files to describe what needs to be printed is not analogous to an application to run, it is analogous to a music file that is played. Any 3D printer than does not allow people to enter their own 3D model files will be very unpopular. That is kind of the whole point of a 3D printer, is that the user can take plans they've downloaded and modify them to their desires. Or, come up with their own plans. If the 3D printer can only print what a company like Apple approves of first then it may as well be a link to Amazon for people to have what they want shipped to them overnight by someone that mass produced the item.

Here's the other problem I see with his logic, the computer will not know what a gun looks like. Even if the plans have to be approved by a human that person would have to somehow know the part is for making a gun.

Just think of an AR-15 receiver, the part that carries a serial number by ATF rules. That is only recognizable as a firearm by someone that has seen one before separate from all the other parts that makes it a functional rifle. Then there is another popular receiver design for 3D printing, the M1911. This might be more "gun like" in appearance but if it's labeled as a handle for a power drill, air nailer, or other such tool then it might just get past the approval process unless the people doing the approvals for whatever service that offers these files have seen that before as well. This subterfuge of the process would be made another way with a new unique firearm design that also includes a feasible non-firearm use of the part, such as a cordless power tool.

Now Mr. Adams ends with this not being any real threat because the "friction" in using a 3D printer to make a firearm is already quite high and is likely to remain high. I agree with this but not for the reasons he states. The process to obtain a legal firearm in the USA is a "low friction" process right now, at least in most areas. If a law abiding citizen wants a handgun for whatever reason then they can go to any of a number of federally licensed firearm dealers and pick one up in minutes.

Here's the thing though, what the threat of 3D printed firearms does is mean that if the government tries to raise the "friction" on law abiding citizens to get a firearm then there will be an almost immediate reaction among the public to get their hands on 3D printers that have not been modified to raise this "friction".

Because this technology already exists, and is in the hands of many people already, there can be no going back. Any politician that makes a proclamation on raising the friction on future gun ownership will drive people to get real creative on how to lower the friction to firearm ownership by 3D printing. There will be people that will engineer 3D printer friendly firearm designs so it doesn't take much skill on the person printing it to create the parts and assemble them to a working firearm.

I saved the best part for last. The most profound part of Scott Adams talking about 3D printed firearms is that Scott Adams is talking about 3D printed firearms. His audience might be the political type, and the technical "geeky" type, but they are not uniquely the gun owning type. This is a discussion that this getting a wider audience. People will learn what 3D printing can and cannot do. This will shift the discussion in the future and force those that wish to deny the law abiding, and the criminals, access to firearms to think more clearly on what the actual problems are and how to deal with them. They can no longer disarm the public in ways that was done in the past. There is likely no longer any disarming of the public.