Last Friday morning as I was juggling packed lunches and social media for 3DPI, while attempting to throw a piece of toast down my throat, the voice of a local BBC news presenter interrupted my endeavours, announcing that Greater Manchester Police had seized a 3D printer and what was believed to be plastic gun parts during a sting on organized crime in the city.
My heart sank — here we go again!
What unfolded — across different national UK news channels and social media reactions — throws up a number of issues, all equally frustrating, that just aren’t going to go away any time soon
The initial frustration comes from (badly researched) mass media coverage of a sensational headline. Turns out Sky News broke the story originally with “Police Find First 3D Gun-Printing Factory”.
And we wonder why our children struggle to differentiate between fiction and reality! Until global broadcasters can manage to do it, they are always going to find it difficult.
In reality, one MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer was seized, along with two suspected plastic gun parts (turns out that that they were not parts for a working gun) and, more notably, but barely touched on in the TV coverage: “£330,000 worth of drugs, £25,000 in cash, weapons such as high-powered air rifles, seven high powered cars and 50 tonnes of counterfeit goods worth at least £2m.“ And, more than 50 suspected gang members have been arrested in connection with the seizures too. So, some potentially dangerous criminals are now in custody and a wide range of illegal and dangerous paraphernalia is off the streets thanks to some decent police work.
But where does the focus lie? On a 3D printer, that may or may not have been used illegally. Chances are, in all honesty, that the owner(s) of the 3D printer probably did want to try and print a gun — they are probably stupid enough and amoral enough to give it a go. But, there is absolutely no proof of that and for me, this takes away the merit of what the police have achieved here.
And, while the police have taken a battering for this, because they over-reacted, like the public at large, the police are forming opinions on 3D printed guns that are largely inaccurate. In the UK it is hardly surprising they want to err on the side of caution. But then, that can result in the debacle that unfolded across the course of the day. By Friday night it was no longer being broadcast. Some responsibility does have to lie with the police force in this case and the others like it that will almost certainly follow — they need to be better informed and react accordingly. But the biggest problem by far, IMHO, is the mainstream media, its reactionary and sensationalist tendencies and total disregard of truth in favour of ratings.
And then we come back to Cody Wilson, who gave Sky News an interview off the back of this story. His original 3D printed Liberator gun, and the subsequent widespread release of the data files across the internet will forever be the origin of any sort of furore around this subject. And isn't he just basking in the "glory".
As is his wont, he used the opportunity to proclaim his “crass, irresponsible and self-serving rhetoric” as I called it on Friday morning on twitter, when I was struggling to contain my anger. And even though it has now dissipated, I will stand by that description! His calm, patronizing and smug tones (and smile) as he denounced British culture and typical attitudes to guns I found so odious and prejudiced it was hard to keep my breakfast down. His conviction that Britain’s “future will have [guns] as a feature, irrevocably, from now until eternity” is not entirely wrong, it’s unlikely we’ll ever eliminate gun crime completely. What I find objectionable is his delight in contributing to this fact along with the desire to “Republicanise” us somehow, implying that we are not entitled to want and/or try to keep guns off our streets. In believing that we are entitled to want this, according to Mr Wilson, we are engaging our “fat middle class conscience.” We’re also “too comfortable” with “our eyes half shut” to even comprehend the vision of anarchic freedom that he proudly espouses — a freedom that whether he can see it or not, means that more people will die, sooner than they should.