Guns, Limbs, and Toys: What Future for 3D Printing?

51 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2016

See all articles by Adam D. Thierer

Adam D. Thierer

R Street Institute

Adam David Marcus

Institute for Humane Studies

Date Written: June 14, 2016


We stand on the cusp of the next great industrial revolution thanks to technological innovations and developments that could significantly enhance the welfare of people across the world. This article will focus on how one of those modern inventions -- 3D printing -- could offer the public significant benefits, but not without some serious economic, social, and legal disruptions along the way. We begin by explaining what 3D printing is and how it works. We also discuss specific applications of this technology and its potential benefits. We then turn to the policy frameworks that could govern 3D printing technologies and itemize a few of the major public policy issues that are either already being discussed, or which could become pertinent in the future. We offer some general guidance for policymakers who might be pondering the governance of 3D printing technologies going forward. Contra to the many other articles and position papers that have already been penned about 3D printing policy, which only selectively defend permissionless innovation in narrow circumstances, we endorse it as the default rule across all categories of 3D printing applications.

Keywords: 3D printing, innovation, precautionary principle, permissionless innovation

Suggested Citation

Thierer, Adam D. and Marcus, Adam David, Guns, Limbs, and Toys: What Future for 3D Printing? (June 14, 2016). Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Adam D. Thierer

R Street Institute ( email )

1050 17th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Adam David Marcus (Contact Author)

Institute for Humane Studies ( email )

3401 N. Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201-4432
United States

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