Be Afraid

Reporters from The Daily Mail demonstrated, what they thought to be, the danger 3D printed firearms pose to society at large:

The Mail On Sunday today exposes the massive international security risk posed by a gun that can be easily made with new 3D printers.

We built the weapon, which is capable of firing a live round, from blueprints available on the internet – then smuggled it on to a packed Eurostar train.

Two reporters passed completely unchallenged through strict airport-style security to carry the gun on to a London to Paris service in the weekend rush-hour, alongside hundreds of unsuspecting travellers.

The reaction you’re supposed to have is, “Oh. My. God. Violent psychopaths are going to board our trains and planes with 3D printed guns and kill us all! Quick, government, save us!”

The reaction you should have is, “So? New technological advances have always outpaced current security measures.”

What the reporters discovered was an inherit danger in 3D printed firearms, it was an inherit danger in relying on security measures to protect you from evildoers. We humans, being creative creatures, have a knack of bypassing every security measure we implement. Did you put a lock on your door? No problem, a determined burglar will merely pick it open. Did you put a very secure lock on your door? No problem, a determined burglar will kick in one of your basement windows. Did you install a security system that automatically alerts the police if somebody enters your home? No problem, a burglar can be in and out before the police have a chance to respond.

We see this with airport security. Violent criminals have tried all manners of devious methods to bypass airport security. Metal detectors are ineffective at finding explosives. Bag checks can work if explosives are in a bag but fail if the explosives are concealed in a shoe. Body scanners can work to see concealed weapons, unless that weapon is smuggled in a body cavity.

Do 3D printed firearms really pose a great threat to passengers of trains and planes? Potentially, but not because the device can bypass security at gates. The threat comes from the centralized security models usually implemented on mass transit systems. Once you’re beyond the gate you’re almost entirely defenseless because it’s assumed that the train is a secured because passengers were required to go through the designated security checkpoint. In reality a clever person can either bypass those checkpoints or smuggle weapons through them.

There is no such thing as a “secured area.” Whatever mechanisms are used to secure the “secured area” can be bypasses, which will make that “secured area” and “unsecured area.” The only real option when it comes to implementing security is to decentralize is. Relying on a security checkpoint is akin to relying on police protection. Both systems have a handful of major failure points. If I can get a weapon beyond a security checkpoint I will likely enjoy free reign. So long as I can commit my crime before the police arrive I have a good chance of escaping, or at least completing my intended goal.

Being able to smuggle a 3D printed gun past security is only a threat because the people in the “secured area” are almost entirely defenseless.