In light of the recent events in Las Vegas, Tom and Tracy talk about 3D print bump stocks. This is not a statement or debate about the Second Amendment or even of the legality of things, but more of a discussion about the ethical, moral and even physical risks that designers must think about when creating something.
Were going to do an episode thats maybe a little controversial but were going to do it anyway, especially with what happened in Las Vegas with the shooting and there have been a lot in the media about these bump stocks. Were going to talk about that today, especially as it relates to 3D printing and making your own products or should you make your own products.
We have an ethical and moral dilemma as designers to ask ourselves, Should we do something?
Thats the core of the problem. It weighs heavy on us that we have to have this conversation, and weve had it multiple times over the couple of years of the podcast already. The idea of freedom or not, Second Amendment rights or not. We dont really care about that debate and we dont want to be a part of that. But we have an ethical and moral dilemma as designers to ask ourselves, Should we do something? Weve raised this question again and again and for us, its very personal. Newtown is where Tracys family is from. Her aunt worked at the high school in Newtown, Connecticut. She knew the shooter there. Those children were all members of her community. Its very personal to.
Theres also the issue of what happened in Las Vegas affected Tracy personally because her sister was there. Her sister was in the front row on the left side of the stage. She was there. She escaped with a lot of bruises and a lot of post-traumatic stress. Shes emotionally injured but not so physically injured. She was able to escape because she was on the left side. Yet, its hard to look at something like those bump stocks, to see the pictures of those guns on television, and know that somebody designed them. That is really where we get to the crux of it. Were a product person first and foremost and we see somebody designed them. We, over the years, prided ourselves on our ability to design around problems and obstacles.
Turning a semi-automatic into an automatic weapon; it sounds like a problem. It sounds like, Weve got to get around this dilemma of how to fix this so that it can do what I want it to do. We do that all the time in our business. We are not making a statement or arguing pro or con the Second Amendment. That is not the issue today. The issue is we want you think about as listeners, think about whether or not this is ethically and morally okay for you to be designing things like this, as designers or printing them or creating them or in any way, shape or form, whether thats the right thing for you to do. We want to think about that from a bigger, more global perspective of product safety, ethics, morals. All of those things have to come into play when were messing with creation.
For us in this, we are designers more than we are engineers, but this part of design, this crosses over in engineering completely. When were saying design today, were talking about design, design engineering, or just straight engineering because engineers solve problems. There are regulations about certain products and whether you can import them or not from certain countries or in certain materials. As designers, and we do engineering at times, we have to problem solve. We have to get around obstacles. We have to make something, do something that it wasnt meant to do before and make it do it now. We get that.
We have a history of what we callfortress IP, building a fortress around your intellectual property, but we also often talk about how to legally get around somebody elses patent. At times, thats a defensive thing for our clients because they dont want to develop a product that is going to infringe on someone elses patent. Or were helping somebody break their own patent where theyve had a patent, they think its good, and we play the role of a competitor coming in, If this is a patent, thats an obstacle in my way, how am I going to and get around that? We engineer, design, develop around that, and build what we call a fortress around the core patent. We are surrounding it with all the possible ways that it could be broken. Were really good at it. Weve been quite successful at it. Weve not only helped clients who spent years and years negotiating with thePatent and Trademark Officetrying to get a patent. They had written a claim a certain way that wasnt working and then we come in and analyze it and said, We see that you did really invent something here but if you wrote these claims a different way, you could get your patent. Thats one aspect.
The other aspect is weve come up with three or four additional patents for our clients when working with them. They have one that they thought, This is really an important segment of our business, who represents tens of millions of dollars of business a year. I got to make sure that someone isnt going to be able to just come in, make a minor change and take away my market share. We come up with as many different ways as we could possibly think of as if were a competitor but working for them. Sometimes theyre cost-effective and sometimes theyre not. In a couple of cases weve made ones that are better than the original core patent. It just happens because as you start to do something, you learn sometimes simpler is better. It just happens that way. Thats the perspective that were coming with it.
Looking at the bump stocks on these semi-automatic weapons that circumvent it and essentially turn it into an automatic weapon, legally or not legally, we dont care about that discussion. Thats not the point here. The point is that someone designed that, someone developed that, someone engineered that. Thats where we really have to sit back. We ask ourselves a few key questions every single time we get approached by someone to do that, to break their patent or to break someone elses patent, to do it and get around it. We ask ourselves three questions. Number one, Is this for the greater good? Does this help more people have jobs? Is the original patent unfair, overly restrictive?
Tracy once interviewedWalter OBrien. If youve seen the TV show Scorpion, youll know who were talking about, absolute genius. He calls it his fairness equation. When hes making a decision about whether or not he should hack something or do something, he has a fairness equation. We think about that all the time when were making decisions about whether or not we should design something. Is this in the best fairness equation system? It may not be what most people would do but if it balances out, then to us thats fair. But its a very fine line to be saying that and justifying something thats unfair or illegal just on paper and youre getting around that, or unethical and immoral. Thats really where we have to sit back and say, Is this right? Is this the right thing to do?
The second question we ask is, is this the safe thing to do? Weve talked about 3D print product safety numerous times over the years. Early on,Gail Greatorexwhen were talking about product safety, we touched on these very issues. Is something safe? The reality is that it would break our heart. It is something that has always been a major fear of ours because we fix this problem so often for other companies. They end up with aCPSC, a Consumer Product Safety Commission violation or recall. Children have died or injured on products, especially when we design TV stands. My greatest fear was that we would design a product that hurt a child. For us looking at that, is the product capable? Are our capabilities as designers, would it stretch us too thin that we could make a mistake that could possibly injure someone? Take someones life, harm them irreparably. Those are the things. Thats the second question that we really ask ourselves. Is there a great potential for that?
The third thing is just really, is this something that I would feel proud to design? Its
the last thing we ask ourselves. This is our criteria. Were throwing that out to you. Its what we use when we evaluate a project. There are a lot of other things. Is this in the best interest of the client? Can they make money doing it? Theres a whole bunch of other issues we ask. At the end of the day whether or not were going to say no to a project or yes to a project, those are the three critical factors because we want to be able to sleep at night.
They let it expire, so then the semi-automatic rifles are allowed to be sold again.
We dont want to get into the legal aspects of this but I want to talk about a few of them because I have done my homework on this whole subject of bump stocks in preparation for recording this, and I want to give a very brief history of it. Im sure most people probably know some of these things, but some of this Im sure youll also wont. Automatic weapons were actually legal in this country in the United States until 1986, automatic, real machine guns. There later was also an assault weapons ban of semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 rifles like you hear about that are very often used in these mass shootings. They were banned until 2004. When that ban ran out and the White House decided not to pursue it, they had to vote, Congress would have had to vote and the president would have had to sign to extend it. They let it expire, so then the semi-automatic rifles are allowed to be sold again.
The ban went in during Reagans administration. Automatic weapons were legal until 1986. During Reagan administration, they banned automatic weapons and then there became an assault weapons ban. It may have been the an offshoot of the Brady Bill. The assault weapons ban was only for a period of time. It wasnt a permanent law and it expired in 2004. Then, these weapons were allowed to be sold to anybody who could pass a background check, anybody whos legally allowed to own a firearm could buy one.
The semi-automatic weapon, these assault weapons, just to make sure this is clear to everybody, youve got to pull the trigger with your finger each time to fire a single bullet. You cannot hold the trigger down and have it fire multiple bullets. A machine gun, the way that works you hold the trigger down and it just fires as many bullets as it has in it rapidly until it has no more bullets to fire. There then were a lot of people who preferred machine guns for whatever reason.There was this person in Texas, somewhere around the 2007, 2008 time frame, who just wanted to have the rush, lives in Texas on a farmland and has lots of space and likes to fire weapons. He wanted the rush of firing a weapon that was automatic, but not being able to do that legally, figured out a way to do it and he invented the bump stock. What he did was perfectly legal by the laws that we do have today and was quite ingenious engineering.
We think this guy who invented the bump stock, from a purely engineering perspective, and we know this is going to sound controversial, it is, but from an engineering perspective or design perspective, what he did was brilliant because its simple. We admire it as having solved the problem. We really do. The question still comes back to, should that problem have been solved? As far as the law was concerned, he designed this thing, engineered it, made some prototypes and brought it to theATF, the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms.
Lets just step back and say we would like to resend you to thatepisode with Gail Greatorexand to our episode on3D print bulletswe did about those Russian bullets. That in and of itself is an unsafe act. The idea of designing something of which you could get severely injured in the prototyping and development of that product, this is where we really encourage you to be very, very careful. This, especially in 3D printing, can be very unsafe. You can hurt yourself for sure, especially when youre doing it on the weapon. Think about this, you know all the time how often it is we print something on that build plate and its not strong enough. We didnt use a strong enough material, this breaks, it fractures into pieces. This is where someone could get severely injured just in the prototyping and development process. We want to remind you that were not endorsing that in any way, shape or form. We want you to be safe in the design and development process.
We can personally admire the innovativeness and creative thought process that someone had to go through to find another way to do something that wasnt obvious. Thats something we practice all the time. We personally dont like the product and we wouldnt use it ourselves. Guns, personally we dont need that but we do admire the effort to create it. Heres the key thing that the problem that this person had to solve, is that what the law says that outlaws machine guns is that also not only youre not allowed to have one but youre not allowed to mechanically modify a semi-automatic weapon in its mechanism. The law gets very specific in there that youre not allowed to go in there and machine it and add any parts. Youre not allowed to modify the gun itself to make it automatic. Thats illegal too. Its not like, Youre not allowed to buy one on the streets or buy one in a proper gun store but you could take it home and then with a kit or even with making your own parts modify that to make it a machine a gun. Youre not allowed to do it.
The bump stock doesnt actually do that. The bump stock uses physics and the natural recoil mechanism of a gun where you have the stock of the gun, which is the part that goes against your shoulder, and when you fire a bullet, the bullets going away from you in an incredibly fast speed and the natural physics reaction is the gun has an equal but opposite reaction. It pushes back on you. What this bump stock does is uses that force and the gun moves backward. The bump stock has a bit of effectively a springing or bouncing action that then moves the gun a little bit more forward. Because of that action, it makes it so using your own finger, which is legal to fire the trigger, that because that gun moves back and forth, back and forth and back and forth, it ends up firing at very, very close to the rate of a machine gun.
Theres anarticle in the New York Timesthat goes through some of that. They actually were able to analyze the audio recordings and because there have been so many cellphone video recordings of not only this incident in Las Vegas, but also the incident in Orlando last year at the Pulse nightclub where that assailant used a semi-automatic rifle and without any modifications, no bump stock, just pulling the trigger, he was able to get off 24 shots within nine seconds. Still, a lot of bullets in nine seconds but he had to actually pull the trigger 24 times to do it. In the Las Vegas shooting with that bump stock, he was able to get off 90 shots in ten seconds. Not the exact same amount of time but clearly three and a half times the number of bullets in the same period of time.
Then a fully automatic weapon, they also have audio of that and were analyzing that, and a fully automatic weapon can get off 98 shots in seven seconds. You can see how close a bump stock actually makes a semi-automatic weapon more like an automatic weapon. Its really shocking. It was interesting to listen to that. They have the audio files in that article. You can check it out. This guy in Texas and his company he created is calledSlide Fire Solutions. After he invented this bump stock and sent it to the ATF and they said, This is not against the law. You can do this. You can make it and you can sell it. He then went and sold it. Is there a market for these things? Yes, there was a market. In their first year of sales, which was in 2010, they sold 35,000 units in one year and made $10 million as a company, the first year in business.
Just because theres a market for something, we sit back and say, Should we be making it? Should we be doing this? Should we be designing this? Should we be facilitating this? This is the ethical and moral questions we, as designers, have to ask ourselves. Just bec
ause we need the money to design because we run a business doesnt mean we have to take projects. This guy invented it himself and thats totally fine and built his company around it and believes that hes doing his greater good. Whether or not it is, at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself that question as a designer.
It is our job to know how someone is going to misuse a product.
We have a lot of freedom in design. Think about the unintended consequences. This guy, his motivation was, I just want to be out in the countryside, shooting automatic weapon and getting the rush from it and other people do too and they have the right to do that. Im going to call BC because unintended consequences are our job to know. It is our job to know how someone is going to misuse a product. It is our job. We are liable as designers and engineers, unless we have signed indemnification clauses, which we sign with all of our clients in all our contracts, making us not personally liable. Mis-designing, mis-engineering and causing injury to someone is not an excuse to have not been skilled at it or had no idea someone would use your product like that. Thats what liability insurance is for.
Clearly different people have different fairness equations or different moral compasses and theyre going to do it. These people would say, Obviously, youre not supposed to use these guns to shoot other people indiscriminately like that. Thats illegal. What were saying clearly is that we dont have the luxury as designers and engineers of products to sit back and say, We didnt think that people would use it like that. It is our job to think of it. Thats why we have insurance for that, Errors and Omissions. Its because we can make a mistake. Its because we can omit something because we didnt think of it. It was outside of our realm of possibility. Were not personally gun owners. If we werent personally gun owners and we went to design something, its highly likely someone could get injured because we dont have a firsthand experience. You can make a mistake in that process. We design products that we dont have firsthand experience with all the time. Thats one of the things.
Our role is very extremely important, is to embed ourselves as much in the process, try to use the products, try to make sure that we dont omit anything. It is our job to figure out whether or not there will be unintended consequences. Bean bags, going back to one of the biggest liability projects weve ever worked on and we ever encountered. We designed office chairs and office chairs have a very, very high liability because people get injured on them all the time. They stand on their chairs. They have sex on their chairs. Believe me, weve heard it all. They do stuff on their chairs they shouldnt do, or they just lean back on their chairs and fall over and hit their head on the floor. Stuff happens on chairs. They have a very high liability. But even higher than that, bean bags. Bean bags seem like the most innocuous, safest, easiest thing to design on Earth. We had a client come to us because two children died getting zipped up and smothered by the little beads inside the bean bag, which are small Styrofoam beads. We didnt design that. Our job was to fix it and make it so safe that it couldnt happen again.
Theres a lot of reasons that they could have passed blame and said, The manufacturer didnt do a good job of putting the hog ring, which is basically a heavy piece of wire thats supposed to prevent a kid from being able to unzip the zipper after the bean bag is assembled, but they can if they work around it. Its horrible to think about that. We step back and we said, We will take this challenge because we know how much kids like this. We know that companies are going to continue to make bean bags. Is there a way for us to make them safer and make them so that they are unzippable at the end of the day and that theyre truly locked up? The only way youre going to be able to open a bean bag with this device is if you were to cut the fabric. If you cut the fabric, youre not going to be able to zip it back up. We think it makes it safer.
We still think people can misuse a product enough, no matter what you do, to cause harm or be harmed but at least this made it even safer than it was. Even still, we sat back and we said, Weve designed this new way to do it. We recommend you change the zipper shape so that you cant pull out the zipper, which is another problem that you have, is you can rip apart a zipper if you pull hard enough. There are certain structures of the teeth of the zipper that make that almost impossible without extreme brute force. You would have to use equipment to pull it apart and thats what we recommend, this industrial-style zipper. Its patent pending as of last year. The zipper closure requires a special tool to open, that you could not open it if you didnt have the special tool, which doesnt exist in anyones normal toolbox. It was a special tool. We have recommended to them that they dont even ship it with the product, that they only do it upon request from the customer service department. Lets say, you really wanted to wash yours, you would call in, request one, and you would be able to receive it and take it apart.
What we said was we dont recommend to do it. We think you should take away zippers altogether. That at this point, you should be stitching up an inner layer and doing an outer covering and yet the retailer said no. They dont want to do that anymore. There is that process of going through things where you still dont recommend, even after youve designed a solution and you still dont think its safe enough. Thats where we sat there and said, We still dont think its safe enough. Its still not comfortable for us to endorse you using this. Its not foolproof. We recommend you dont do it at all, that you take zippers out of the equation altogether and heres our solution for that. This is the one thing though that you cant get overruled in that process. Thats where you have to sit back as the designer and really say, Should I even take this project to begin with? Should I even design this to begin with? Thats where we sit with that kind of experience level, knowing that.
Returning to the bump stocks and the 3D printing tie in. We figured, were sure most of you who are listening to this episode know really much about 3D printing and the files that are available out there at all, is that there probably were some 3D print files out there for bump stocks and in fact, there are. Im not going to link to any of them in this blog post because Im not interested in making it easier for those to be distributed, but the reality is there are some out there and there are some YouTube videos of people demonstrating and using them. Heres where we think this ties in.
Weve talked at least two episodes in the past about Cody Wilson who was the guy who was creating an intentional 3D printed gun. The ATF in his case and the FBI all worked to pull his files off the internet and would not allow them to be distributed as a 3D printed gun. Now this 3D printing all comes in because Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed a bump stock ban at legislation in Congress. We dont know whether its going to pass or not but its actually getting some warm reception even from some Republicans. Well have to see what happens.
I would just like also to point out that I wrote anarticle for Inc.about when there was a 3D printed gun found by TSA in the Reno Airport. Right at that time, I had done a bunch of research and discovered also that there had been legislation passed in the State of California that modified our already existing gun laws to include essentially 3D printed. It wasnt changing anything in the gun law. It was just including finding 3D printed guns to be regulated like regular firearms. In other words, you have to mark them with the manufacturer, you have to register them. Theres a whole bunch of laws and requirements that included any use of a 3D printed gun. The reason for it, I thought was really interesting when I was researching it, was that it was at
the behest of the law enforcement in the State of California because they were afraid that they would encounter a 3D printed gun because theyd already been encountering parts of 3D printed guns. They were afraid that they would encounter a 3D printed gun used in the commission of a crime and then be unable to make a case against someone because the gun was unregulated, because many times you have gun violations as a part of why you arrest someone.
Whereas, if you had the skills and equipment in your garage to make a homemade gun and machine it out of metal, you probably wouldnt fall under some of those regulations because its a homemade gun. They probably didnt want the same thing to happen with 3D printed files. You committed crime but they couldnt charge you with the gun law violations. They couldnt charge you with the use of unregistered firearm or anything like that because it wasnt an unregistered firearm. It was unregulated. They had changed that regulation. Dianne Feinstein, theyre coming off of the fact that this has actually come from request from law enforcement here in the State of California as well. Theres a big difference here. We have already regulated 3D print here. That happened post San Bernardino as well.
Shes trying to not only ban the sale of them but possession of them, like possession of drugs is illegal.
This articlecame out in the Washington Examiner were talking about how 3D printing could make Dianne Feinsteins proposed law banning bump stocks obsolete. We want to call BS on that one. I sent an email to her office and sent a Facebook message saying, You forgot to include the word design in your legislation. You should know better because of the laws here in California. Part of what I know that that proposed law is trying to do is not just, and this is where we think part of this article is a waste of electrons on the internet, is the reality is that with her law, shes trying to not only ban the sale of them but possession of them, like possession of drugs is illegal. Possession of a bump stock would be illegal. If that happens, it really wouldnt matter how you made it. It wouldnt matter if it was 3D printed.
The other thing that most of our 3D print enthusiast and listeners would find interesting is the author of this article claimed that while 3D printing would get around this ban and make this law obsolete is the premise. You can probably imagine, this is probably written by somebody whos in favor of unregulated gun rights. Heres where theyve made an argument that undercuts what theyre trying to achieve, is they said that they estimated that one of the main 3D printable bump stock files out there on the internet, if you printed it in nylon, they claimed it would cost around $2,000 and take 52 hours to print. Were like, Weve done all kinds of analysis. We have tons of experience 3D printing things, the different parts in nylon or other materials. How the heck are they getting to $2,000? That sounds far-fetched, fuzzy math in our opinion.
Apparently, they were factoring in part of that the cost of buying a 3D printer, and the 52 hours they were amortizing cost of that printer over the 52 hours and then there were some materials to make a single one. Anybody who has any experience in desktop 3D printing would find that to be absurd. Anyone who has any experience in any kind of manufacturing would find that absurd. $2,000, you could probably go to a machine shop if they would do it and have somebody just machine it out of a solid block of aluminum for you for that cost. The idea that it would cost $2,000 to 3D print one of these we thought was ridiculous. The 52 hours building all the parts on a desktop 3D printer, we could believe that. 52 seems a little low for something thats better be printed in a 100% infill. It would be a 100% infill and of a very strong material and they certainly wouldnt make this out of PLA. If it were us, it would have to be some much stronger plastic. Even some of the nylons we tried, we wouldnt even think they were strong enough. We thought that was ridiculous.
As we thought, there are 3D printable files out there of bump stocks on the internet, they exist. If you want to find them, Im sure you can. Thats where we think that Dianne Feinsteins office or whoever wrote the proposed language, Im sure she didnt write it all herself, and trying to ban possession of them was taking the right approach. If you really want to make it so that they are really totally illegal, just having one would be illegal. It didnt matter how you got it, made it, if it was given to you, whatever.
On the other side of that, from an IP standpoint, youre violating the intellectual property of the originator of that file. In fact,Slide Fire Solutions, they did file a patent. They have achieved patents on that and they do have them. They had a couple of competitors try to come out with their own version and they battled them in court over it and won. When in the first year, you sold $10 million worth of them, youve got enough money to go wage patent litigation on that, which is where I would say raise the red flag to anyone whos a service bureau who is considering that its okay to 3D print bump stocks. We certainly hope you dont consider doing that just from an intellectual property violation standpoint because that is a really slippery slope at a service bureau for you to start violating