I put things here so they are on the internet

Michael Weinberg

I put things here so they are on the internet

Friday may well go down as a turning point in the debate around 3D printed guns, and 3D printing policy in general.  Two important sides seemed to step away from confrontation and instead focus on what is important to them.  Defense Distributed included metal parts in their otherwise fully 3D printed handgun.  And Rep. Steve Israel used Defense Distributed’s announcement to raise concerns about undetectable firearms, not 3D printing.  Both should be praised for these decisions.

Bur first, some background

Conversations about firearms have been bubbling around the edges of 3D printing for some time now.  Things really started heating up when an organization called Defense Distributedannounced its intention to help design a fully 3D printed firearm.  This raised some policy concerns (some novel, some not) about home manufacture of firearms.

Perhaps the highest profile critic of Defense Distributed was Rep. Steve Israel.  Although his primary concern was with undetectable firearms, much of his framing seemed to single out one way to make undetectable firearms – 3D printing.  This 3D printing focus came to a head when Rep. Israel sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter to other Members of Congress raising fears about 3D printed firearms.

What Defense Distributed did

On Friday, Forbes reported that Defense Distributed released photos of what it claims to be a fully 3D printed handgun.  But the handgun had an important feature – it included six ounces of steel, thus making it a detectable firearm.

This was a savvy decision on Defense Distributed’s part.  The organization has a substantial list of intriguing goals but making a gun that can be smuggled into an airport does not seem to be one of them.  By including metal in the design, Defense Distributed stepped away from what may have been a distracting side conversation. This should allow it to focus on the things it really cares about without unnecessarily reaching into other policy areas.

What Rep. Israel did

We were quite critical of Rep. Israel’s previous Dear Colleague letter.  As we wrote then, the letter seemed to muddle his concerns and be overly-focused on one way to make undetectable firearms, not on undetectable firearms themselves.  Friday’s announcement could have been an opportunity to return to that argument.

But instead, to his credit, Rep. Israel focused on the real concerns that Friday’s announcement raised for him.  In a new Dear Colleague letter, Rep. Israel points to Defense Distributed’s design as a high profile reminder that undetectable firearms are a real possibility.  Rep. Israel’s letter focuses on his real concern – undetectable firearms – without singling out one way to manufacture them.

None of this will be the last word

While these are both encouraging steps, they certainly do not represent the end of the line.  Including metal in a gun design does not mean that it cannot be modified to be undetectable.  And removing 3D printing references from a Dear Colleague letter does not mean that no Member of Congress will ever unnecessarily vilify 3D printing.  

But both sides appear to have shifted their focus back to what they really care about.  This type of evolution is positive for policy conversations surrounding 3D printing.  Hopefully they are signs of positive things to come.  And you can rest assured that we here at Public Knowledge are working to make sure that this momentum keeps moving in the right direction.

Co-Sponsor Legislation to Continue the Ban on Plastic Guns

From: The Honorable Steve Israel
Bill: H.R. 1474
Date: 5/3/2013


Dear Colleague:

As you might have seen today, Defense Distributed unveiled a technologic feat that many said was years from development: a gun made almost completely of plastic. Just as the true threat of plastic guns is becoming more and more apparent, the law that keeps these firearms off of our streets is set to lapse. Now that the technology has advanced to a point where these guns are real and will soon be able to reliably fire bullets, Congress must act. Below please find an article from Forbes outlining today’s news.

I urge you to co-sponsor legislation I introduced to give law enforcement the tools they need to protect American families from plastic firearms and gun components that can slip past security checkpoints. My legislation would extend and update the ban on guns and gun parts that cannot be detected by metal detectors or x-ray machines, entitled the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act.

The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act would update current law and extend key provisions to include both lower receivers and magazines printed in plastic by individuals. The legislation specifically targets individuals who produce plastic gun components and magazines, while exempting legitimate manufacturers. Extending this ban is necessary to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep plastic guns that can slip through security lines off of our streets.

To sign on as a cosponsor, please contact ******* in my office at *-**** / *********.



Member of Congress


What you will need:

1. Some sort of music source (phone, laptop, basically anything with a headphone out)

2. Speakers

3. Speaker wire

4. An amp (I used this one, which cost $25)

5. A patch cable to connect your source to the amp (I used this one, which cost $2).

6. 4 screws plus 8 non-metal washers (optional)

7. Some straps (I used these, which cost $8) (optional).

The challenge here was to get music into the backyard.  In the old house we just ran some speaker wire from the receiver into the back but, for various reasons, that is no longer an option. While I would love to be able to wirelessly sync all of the speakers in the house to a central source

1) I’m not going to buy a Sonos system with all of its proprietary stuff, and

2) I’m not in the Apple ecosystem so those expensive solutions don’t work, and

3) I don’t have my act together enough to hack a system together myself.

I was thinking about just buying a boombox for the backyard, but they are kind of expensive and the speakers aren’t that good at my price point.  Fortunately, my phone makes a pretty good source for music.  It can tap into the music server that is running at home (mt-daap) with this app, can stream from google music, and generally can do what I need it to do.  I also have a bunch of speakers lying around the house.  But how can I bring these together?

The easy answer is an amp.  The amp just takes a signal from your source (like your phone), AMPlifies it to make it louder, and sends it to the speakers.  It’s kind of like the core of a boombox.

Setting it up is also easy.  All you need to do is connect your phone to a cable that has headphone plugs (1/8") on both end:


The other end goes into the amp:


Then you connect the amp to the speakers (the colors on the terminals matter - make sure to match them):


Power up the amp:


and you are ready to go.

Truth be told, you can leave it there.  However, with a very little extra bit of work you can bring them into a nice package. 

Wrapping the straps around the speakers brings them together (and if you get a good length, you can also use them to create a handle):


And screwing the amp into the speakers keeps it in place:


Try to keep the screws short enough that they don’t go through the side of the speaker.  I wouldn’t necessarily do this with super high-end speakers, but for a set you are going to use in the backyard while you are hanging out it shouldn’t alter them in a way that matters.  The washers are to reduce vibration between the speakers and the amp.

The future

While this is a great solution for now, ideally I would like to tie these speakers more directly into the  main A/V system.  That means either finding a wireless way to connect them to the back of my receiver or creating some sort of client that syncs playback off of the music server.  Both of those would allow me to have the same song playing in all of the speakers in the house.  Right now wireless bridge solutions are kind of crappy and expensive and, as I noted before, I’m not good enough to build the clients.  So for now this will do. 

Last week, Rep. Steve Israel introduced a bill designed to regulate firearms that cannot be found by metal detectors.  The bill makes a passing reference the 3D printing, which is fine.  But the rhetoric that Rep. Israel is using to promote the bill is both muddled and overblown, and focuses almost exclusively on 3D printing.  This is a problem.

As part of the bill introduction process, Rep. Israel circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter to his fellow Members of Congress asking them to co-sponsor the legislation.  The title of the letter?  “Co-Sponsor Legislation to Ban 3D Printed Guns”

In the letter, he points to a CNN article about 3D printed guns as one that “describes the issue and intent of my legislation.”  Later, he dramatically asks “what good will gun safety laws do if guns and gun parts can be printed in a basement using plans found online?”

This is the worst kind of fear mongering.  While 3D printed guns may get headlines, the details are bit less salacious.  That’s part of the reason that the ATF – the government agency tasked with overseeing firearms – is monitoring them but is not overly concerned.

What is Driving the Bill?

And what is Rep. Israel actually concerned about?  What motivated him to act now?  It can be hard to say.  If it is making guns at home, that ship sailed long ago.  The ATF website itselfassures people that they can make guns at home and it is probably safe to assume that people have been doing so since before the United States was the United States.

What about the idea of downloading guns? Again, nothing particularly new here.  Although the group Defense Distributed has gotten a great deal of attention lately, they are largely building off the work of a preexisting community.  The folks over at CNCguns have made plans availablesince at least 2007 that could be used in a CNC mill – that means they could be used to download and make metal guns at home.

But Rep. Israel’s letter talks briefly about plastic guns that could be smuggled through metal detectors.  Should we be concerned about those?  Public Knowledge is not involved in gun policy, so I will leave that decision up to you.  But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are concerned about plastic guns being smuggled through metal detectors.  There are plenty of ways to make plastic guns, many of which can be done at home (and have existed for some time).  Why focus on 3D printing specifically?  Consider this question another way: if someone sneaks a gun into an airport, is the first thing you think to yourself “But what technology did he use to construct the gun?  Because I’m only worried if he made it with a 3D printer.”? 

Confused by Hype

Rep. Israel seems to be feeding, and at the same time confused by, the hype surrounding 3D printed guns.  In many cases, this hype tends to ignore the distinction between the 3D printers that are becoming available to people at home and 3D printers that have been available to companies for decades.  Defense Distributed appears to have successfully created prototypes, but those prototypes have been printed on machines costing tens of thousands of dollars.  If you have 20 or 30 thousand dollars to spend, there are plenty of ways to set up a home gun factory.  A 3D printer is far from your best option. Today, from a practical standpoint, the idea of everyday people downloading and printing their own guns at home on a 3D printer is just– to use Rep. Israel’s word – “science fiction.”

The Actual Bill and Why Words Matter

After reading Rep. Israel’s letter, actually reading the legislation may come as a shock.  The legislation has almost nothing to do with 3D printing and everything to do with undetectable firearms.  We should know – we worked with his office to make sure that the law did not unnecessarily demonize 3D printing (or any other general purpose maker technology).  And if the language in the law is OK, why are we worried?

Because framing and words matter, especially in regards to new technology.  With this letter, Rep. Israel is essentially telling his colleagues “when you think 3D printing, think dangerous weapons.”  For many Members this letter will be their first contact with 3D printing, and they will assume that firearms are all that it is good for.  That initial connection may be a step towards reactionary, poorly considered regulation of 3D printing.

Of course, we are doing our best to make sure that does not happen.  In addition to working with Members like Rep. Israel, we are introducing Congress to 3D printing on more positive terms.  On April 24th we are setting up shop in Congress with over 20 companies and organizations who will show Members and staff the possibilities of 3D printing if it is not stifled.  Please join us to see for yourself what 3D printing is really good for.


This is the letter circulated by Rep. Israel:

Co-Sponsor Legislation to Ban 3D Printed Guns
From: The Honorable Steve Israel
Date: 4/10/2013


Cosponsor the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act


Dear Colleague:

I urge you to co-sponsor legislation I introduced today to give law enforcement the tools they need to protect American families from firearms and gun components that come straight off a 3D printer. My legislation would extend and update the ban on guns and gun parts that cannot be detected by metal detectors or x-ray machines, entitled the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act. The original Undetectable Firearms Act was passed in 1988 when a plastic gun was science fiction, and now that technology has advanced to a point where these guns are being developed to fire bullets, Congress must act to extend this ban. Below I have included a recent CNN piece that describes the issue and intent of my legislation.

Defense Distributed, a group based in Austin, Texas, has been working since late last year towards a single goal: using a 3-dimensional printer to manufacture a plastic firearm. So far the group has been successful in manufacturing a fully plastic, fully functional lower receiver for an AR-15, the same gun used in the Sandy Hook shooting, as well as high capacity magazines for the AR-15 and AK-47. Recently, the group’s founder has stated that they will be able to produce a working 3D printed gun by the end of April. These developments beg the question- what good will gun safety laws do if guns and gun parts can be printed in a basement using plans found online?

The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act would update current law and extend key provisions to include both lower receivers and magazines printed in plastic by individuals. The legislation specifically targets individuals who produce plastic gun components and magazines, while exempting legitimate manufacturers. Extending this ban is necessary to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep plastic guns that can slip through security lines off of our streets.



Member of Congress

The letter also included a link to and the full text of this article.

The Wrong Tool for the Job examines the role that price discrimination can play in broadband pricing and considers the different ways to to implement a price discrimination strategy.  It concludes that, while price discrimination can be an effective way to increase access to broadband, data-based pricing is an inefficient and counter-productive means to that worthy end.

A PDF of the paper can be downloaded here.

3D printing means more people are becoming professional designers, creating and selling even more things.  Although most of these designers are creating wholly original objects, it should not be a surprise that some are building off of existing TV shows, movies, and books.  The result: the world of merchandising is about to confront a long tail that can’t be monitored or controlled.  How should rightsholders respond?  By embracing it.

While it will be a long time before 3D printers deliver custom cell phones and hot tea on demand, today it is beginning to usher in a new era in product design.  With access to low cost 3D printers, individual designers and small design shops can rapidly prototype and perfect physical goods.  They can then turn to more sophisticated 3D printing services that can print finished products on demand.  Suddenly, you do not need to be associated with a large company to sell professional-quality physical goods to the public.  

One benefit of this is that the universe of people trying to think of physical things based on TV shows, movies, and books is going to get a lot bigger.  This will lead to more interesting, creative, and unexpected products.  However, this diversity comes at a cost.  A rightsholder used to dealing with a handful of potential marketing partners must now find a way to sort through multitudes of ideas coming from all corners of the internet.  That rightsholder may be forgiven for thinking that any great new ideas are not worth the effort of searching for them.

But rightsholders may not have the luxury of ignoring this shift.  Take, for example, HBO and the designer Fernando Sosa.  Sosa created a cell phone dock designed to look like the Iron Throne from the HBO series Game of Thrones.  He began pre-selling the dock and intended to 3D print them for customers.  Unfortunately for Sosa, he did not have a license from HBO.  Upon learning of the product HBO, citing existing exclusive contracts with other merchandisers, sent Sosa a letter requesting that he stop offering it for sale.

Although nominally the end of the story, in taking down Sosa’s dock HBO also created a problem: it wasn’t selling them either.  Sosa had identified a market for Iron Throne phone docks.  But by insisting that Sosa stop selling his, HBO had taken away the only way that a customer could pay for such a thing.  This was a missed opportunity. 

A Different Path

How could HBO have responded differently?  It could have negotiated a license with Sosa for his dock.  That would have allowed Sosa’s customers to purchase the object and HBO to make some money from the transaction.  

But even that would only have been a short-term solution.  After all, the world is full of people like Sosa who love HBO shows and have great ideas for turning them into attractive products.  Why not bring them all in at once?

One way to do this would be to create a transparent, available license.  Simply put, HBO could make an offer to any designer: turn Game of Thrones into a product.  Let us know about it.  Sell it.  And give us a cut.  They could even include a caveat excluding some categories of products and reserving the right to revoke the license for specific products they find problematic.

Even with those limitations, such an offer could lead to an explosion of creative objects.  HBO would benefit from the increased publicity from the objects and, not incidentally, from a percentage of the sales.  Designers would benefit from the knowledge that they could actually bring their dream product to market at the beginning of the design process.  HBO and any individual designer would be free to negotiate a different arrangement, but the offer would create some certainty without requiring an additional negotiation.

Of course, some might worry that such an available license would lead to a loss of control for HBO and for rightsholders more generally.  For better or worse (and mostly better), 3D printing makes it much easier for anyone to create physical objects.  That means that rightsholders’ current control may be more illusory than it appears.  Recognizing that early could be a competitive advantage.  Rightsholders are certainly free to continue playing takedown letter whack-a-mole for every new design that pops up on the internet, but that strategy has its limits.  In the end, it may be easier to harness the collective creativity of designers than try to stop it.