Without ammunition, guns are little more than fancy clubs and bats. Unlimited ammo? Maybe.
Guns Don't Kill People.
Without bullets, most guns are little more than unwieldy clubs where a bat or shovel would likely prove equally effective. With the advent of 3-D printing technology, the gun itself -- the mechanism used to shoot a bullet -- is rapidly ceasing to be the issue. In the not-too-distant future, the proliferation of such weapons may cease to be of concern altogether. The availability of ammunition, however, typically taken for granted, will eventually become like illicit drugs, where other than black-market purchases, the acquisition of bullets may be largely prohibited. An assault rifle without ammunition is indeed a relatively useless hunk of metal, plastic, or some form of composite material.
Thus it is that ammunition will always remain the chief concern for either an individual hunter or the army of an entire nation. Need a gun? Kill an enemy soldier and take his. Run out of ammo at the wrong time; you're dead meat, as they say.
Compared to a gun, a bullet may seem like a relatively simple device. The truth, however, is just the opposite. The somewhat complex assembly of a single round is easily discharged with nothing more than a small tube and a nail. Referred to by its slang name of "zip gun", such a simple device -- when loaded -- is as potentially lethal as the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art rifle or pistol. Without bullets, whole populations might be oppressed by governments or other entities who possess and use them to maintain power and control. With enough zip guns -- but lots of ammo -- those same multitudes should instead rise up and conquer any despot, vanquish tyranny however it's manifested. Okay, we get it. It's the bullet and not the gun. But so what? Unless ammo was as easy to make as a synthetic gun, what's the point?
Precisely. What if ammunition, in all its types, were as easy (relatively speaking) to create as so-called "3-D" guns? Such weapons will likely have their own name in the near future, but for now, I'll just refer to them as 3-D guns. As I was saying, imagine a type of 3-D bullet which is printed either as a fully complete round, or in cartridge form only, where the ball or bullet itself is attached or inserted afterward -- similar to how real ammunition is assembled. Sound preposterous? Maybe. Maybe not.
A computer could easily control a machine or printer that was capable of mixing together simple chemicals in such a way that the result was an explosive blend similar to modern gunpowder. The key factor would lie in a coagulating process that would produce a solid shape -- presumably in the form of a cartridge -- that would not require an external shell or casing, such as the typical brass housing of a standard cartridge. In this example, the cartridge itself is the propellant that when discharged, is vaporized in the process. In essence, the bullet is self-contained whereby no empty, leftover cartridges need to be ejected or otherwise dealt with. However, the "blow-back" effect, as it's called, which normally ejects the spent round and loads another into the chamber, ready for firing, would remain the same. The only difference is the absence of an empty casing itself.
While it is no doubt true that such technology does not yet exist, the principles involved seem sound enough and just a matter of time before synthetic, 3-D ammunition becomes available. Likely crude at first, once that particular genie is loosed from its bottle, there would be no turning back. So how would governments fight back? Probably with bans on certain equipment, licensing of other stuff similar to how guns themselves are currently regulated. Making illegal the purchase or ownership of specific chemicals or compounds. Sounds familiar doesn't it. The more things change, the more they remain the same? It would seem so.
So what kind of world would it be where there was virtually no limit on the availability of either guns or ammo? An increased focus on body armor? Maybe everyone in twenty years will don their protective vest and headgear in addition to socks and underwear. I seriously doubt it will come to that. Which means "lethal force" will remain just as deadly in fifty years as it is today. We can be sure of one thing, I'm willing to bet: if we all have to start wearing some kind of bulletproof outer garments, they'll probably be printed in one form or another. In the sci-fi movie Dune, people wore devices which when activated, erected a protective shield around their bodies. Women should likely appreciate such an innovation even more so than men would.
In any event, once the laser pistols, beam rifles, and microwave shot-guns hit the streets, all of these issues may, in the end, become entirely moot and meaningless. Until then, however, 3-D printing technology is merely the beginning of an unlimited range of possibilities, none the least of which is the production of weaponry. But that seems obvious in retrospect -- a total given that guns would come first. Then ammo. But if a computer could mix chemicals into gunpowder, could it not also print drugs based on different chemical formulas? Assuming the raw ingredients were provided, virtually any compound is theoretically feasible. Even those so-called rudimentary ingredients themselves are, in theory, producible.
So where does it all end? I suspect it will ultimately result in the elimination of test-tube babies and cloning in general. With our attention more likely focused on questions of resolution and dpi.