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Opinion | Max Lobovsky

What’s really going on with 3-D printed guns?

A Liberator handgun, made entirely with parts from a 3-D printer. Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images/File

THE ISSUE of 3-D printed guns has been thrust into the limelight and everyone, including the president, seems to be scratching their heads.

The fact of the matter is that guns are a 654-year-old technology, and it’s been possible for quite some time to make guns with more primitive tools by using items found in a hardware store. While 3-D printers could make something that resembles a gun, it is extremely dangerous for the user, according to early studies, much more costly than just buying one, and is difficult to make.

Privately owned firearms are stolen in America with alarming frequency, according to a study by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities. The real issue is the proliferation of guns in the United States and who has access to them, and 3-D printing isn’t really changing that equation.


3-D printing is still a relatively new industry. Fueled in the early 2010s by expired patents, matured technology, cheaper hardware, and the promise of it one day entering people’s homes, scores of companies entered the 3-D printing market with a surge of excitement. But many have since failed. Once the news cycle caught on that this wasn’t going to be something to be used in homes — and I don’t believe it will in the foreseeable future — the hype died down.

Formlabs, however, is still here. Why? We didn’t chase consumer headlines, hypes, and promises. When we set out to start the company, we disrupted the established players from the ’80s who had huge hundred-thousand dollar machines, and instead made that technology attainable and available for the desktop. This was, still is, and may likely be for a very long time, a professional tool.

Some individuals and organizations have chosen to use CNC milling machines, 3-D printers, and other manufacturing techniques and tools to try to make guns. However, 3-D printing is not a particularly practical way to make a gun.


It is, however, a very effective way to make a headline.

Formlabs makes tools for people who innovate and create. We are focused on applications of 3-D printing across health care, dental, manufacturing, and many other industries. Our users are doing amazing things with our printers in these industries and disrupting new ones. Take Matej, whose son Nik was born with cerebral palsy. Doctors predicted Nik would not be able to walk on his own, and prescribed cookie-cutter, expensive orthosis solutions that have been around since the 1950s, cost thousands of dollars, and took weeks for patients to receive.

Matej decided to take matters into his own hands. After six months of experimenting and researching 3-D printing, Matej developed an innovative process (now patent-pending) for a custom 3-D printed orthosis that enabled Nik to walk within three days.

Inspired by his son’s success, Matej has quit his job and launched a company with the mission to make orthotics more accessible for other children, and change the status quo in the health care industry by offering truly custom, patient-matched orthotics.

These are the users and stories we as a company see, support, and share.

The threat of gun violence is a real and important issue that deserves debate in this country. The legal adage “bad facts make bad law” states that there are situations unusual and sometimes extreme that can impact legal decisions with unintended consequences that in turn make “bad” legal precedents. In this case, we have hype and sensationalism around 3-D printed guns that are causing distraction, when it is much more complex than this.


Max Lobovsky is CEO of Formlabs.