Friday, 25 October 2013

Happiness Is A Warm Gun

As inevitable and predictable as the sun rising in the east, each time new technology emerges what subsequently follows is "moral panic". An irrational fear of the unknown. Naturally such scares sell newspapers – it promotes the idea that essentially we are all desperate to be serial killers, but the only thing that prevents us is the lack of technology. It’s similar to the phenomenon detailed in the book “Scared to Death".

This has been a common theme that exposed itself with massive clarity with the advent of cinema, home videos and computer games.

A classic example was the issue over the content of videos in the 1980s. Campaigner Mary Whitehouse notoriously gave a presentation to MPs in 1983; showed a compilation of highlights of so-called video nasties where many of the scenes of films, she objected to, were taken out of context and edited in such a manner as to create maximum impact. The result of her campaign was the 1984 Video Recordings Act.

It was an example of moral panic, one which culminated in this infamous Sun headline ten years later (pictured below), just after the conclusion of the trial regarding the tragic murder of Jamie Bulger, despite that no evidence existed that the film "Child's Play 3" had any relevance in case whatsoever. The judge had simply made it up:

Another example has been computer games. I always remember that the Daily Mail once had a full page spread complaining about the computer game Goldeneye, a best selling game on the Nintendo 64, inspired by the James Bond film of the same name.

“Die, die, die” was the headline, as it reported that a two year old boy said those words as he played the game. A headline that was shocking I’m sure...until we realised that his hands weren’t big enough to grasp the controller and so play the game properly and that the article was describing level four. Which meant that the 2 year old boy had to know terms like; “install covert modem” and “find data allocation tape” in order to progress through the game to get to level four. Less a problem in society, more an example of a boy genius.

With this mind we come on to new technology such as 3D printers and their potential ability to produce guns, as noted by this headline in Telegraph:
Sir Peter Fahey, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, told Sky News that the weapons were a “new phenomenon”, but said his officers were determined to prevent them making it onto the streets.
Earlier this year concerns were raised that the printers – which construct everyday solid items using very thin layers of plastic – could be used to make a gun containing no metal parts.
One can see a future "moral panic" in the making. I'm sure that 3D printers can make guns, but to complain is to assume that weapons cannot be made out of other relatively innocuous items.

For example a rocket launcher can be made out of a drainpipe and a model rocket, a weapon can be made out of very hot coffee laced with ridiculous amounts of sugar, a very effective crossbow can be made out of a wooden coat hanger, some wood, a couple of clothes pegs and an elastic band.

As the 1970’s film Scum (3:33 mins) clearly shows, a sock and a couple of snooker balls can also be very effective. It always amuses me that despite extremely strict security clearances and checks in UK airports they give out free newspapers as you board the plane – which can then be turned into a Millwall Brick.

Thus with 3D printers we can clearly envisage and predict another "moral panic" and a Daily Mail front page outlining the dangers of people...having such technology at home.

Nothing ever changes...


  1. Scared to death was an excellent book. I still refer to it from time to time.
    I remember when I got my shotgun licence and being told in no uncertain terms that when not in use it remains in the cabinet, not under the bed for home defence.
    I explained that there are many household objects that are very effective for home defence and a lot less cumbersome that a four foot shotgun in a terraced house.

    1. What if the cabinet was under your bed? :-)

      Agree, the kitchen for example is overrun with useful and effective objects for self defence.

  2. Heh! It has to be bolted to a brick wall

  3. I suspect the real fear is that 3D printing is going to give everyone the potential to make an awful lot of things that are currently only available through the market, just as home PCs and the internet allow us to obtain news and information without using the traditional sources.

    With 3D printing we would, for instance, be freed of the tyranny of built in obsolescence: imagine making your own car parts.

    A fairly powerful longbow can be made from two pieces of plastic pipe, inserted one inside the other, and fitting snugly. Another moral panic in waiting?

  4. "I suspect the real fear is that 3D printing is going to give everyone the potential to make an awful lot of things that are currently only available through the market, just as home PCs and the internet allow us to obtain news and information without using the traditional sources".

    Yes, yes spot on...

  5. Its the fact you could "print" a lot of things, currently only really plastics, though thats changing, but you can obtain them VAT free!

    at the moment, its only small items, but i suspect the worry is the speed the technology is able to move on. That is their main worry i am sure, losing power as it were over what you are and are not "allowed" to own, and missing out on their cut of it.

    1. Though the printer and its consumables are still subject to VAT. Unless of course you print them :-)

    2. but the dishwasher knob you print costs you 20p in cosumables (4 p vat) and the dish washer knob costs you £30 + VAT if you buy it from hotpoint.

    3. Re. the scale of things: There's no reason why buildings can't be printed, other than the present limits of materials and technology; most of us, I'm sure can remember the days when a 486 was a pretty hot machine, and there was a time when a car that could do 20 mph was called a 'speedster'. 3D printing is in its infancy.

      Talking of printing buildings: I believe power station chimneys are built by constantly pouring very fast setting cement into a constantly rising mould. T

  6. We must put a stop to this "aggressive tax avoidance" caused by people making things :)

  7. You still need a firearms certificate to purchase the ammunition!