In 2013, Second Amendment activists briefly released online blueprints for 3D-printed guns, firearms made of plastic that can be fabricated by relatively inexpensive consumer-level machines and assembled to shoot real bullets. The Defense Department shut down the distribution, but last year, the blueprints were made public again after a lawsuit. Despite ongoing legal wrangling and court-issued injunctions, gun blueprints were downloaded at least 20,000 times. The cat is out of the bag, and there’s no way to put it back in.
But maybe the cat can be poisoned.
European 3D printer company Dagoma knew that anyone with the right blueprints could use their products to print a gun. So they set out to make it more difficult to get the right blueprints. Along with TBWA Paris, the accompany downloaded popular blueprint files, edited them so they no longer work and reuploaded them to the same locations.
To ensure the fakes are difficult to spot, they have the same filenames as the originals. The changes made to the blueprints are minute: gun barrels with a diameter too small for bullets, plastic parts with slightly different angles so parts don’t fit together, pins that don’t reach far enough to fire. But the final pieces weigh the same as the originals and look the same to the naked eye.
Dagoma released several hundred of these files into the wild, back into the online environments where the originals are being shared: message boards, forums, torrent sites and blueprint databases. The goal is not only to make guns printed with the plans inoperable, but also to frustrate users who will spend time and money for materials on guns that don’t work, potentially pushing them to give up getting a firearm at all. So far, the altered files have been downloaded 13,000 times.
Certainly, this effort can’t stop the proliferation of 3D printed guns, but it raises the bar to entry, requiring a bit more technical savvy to parse real files from fake. It’s similar to the way movie studios have released fake film files on torrent sites, hoping to lure pirates into downloading those instead of actual intellectual property. Dagoma is also developing software that can detect firearms files, in the hopes of eventually preventing their printers from being used to print the devices.