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(3D-Printing - Regulations for Today and Tomorrow - digital)
(3D-Printing - Regulations for Today and Tomorrow - digital)
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André Baier
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Aktuelle Version vom 27. Januar 2021, 10:48 Uhr

3D-Printing - Regulations for Today and Tomorrow - digital


The building block deals with the dilemma of freedom vs. regulation in the context of an uprising and widely spread technology. On the one hand regulation is necessary to prevent harmful abuse. On the other hand, as with 3D-printing, developing effective regulation can be a tricky task. This building block gives participants the chance to discuss the potentials of a collaboration between public officials, the private sector and consumers to democratically find balanced regulatory measures. All parties have different means and approaches. Whatever the final approach is, tackling the problem only from one perspective is mostly no sufficient solution.

3D-printing makes prototyping at home possible. Furthermore, the technology is seen as having great potential, for example in the open source, decentralised creation of items tailored to local needs. But there are downsides to the glory. Since the accuracy and durability of printed objects improves rapidly, this technology can be used to produce harmful products such as weapons by the means of a conventional 3D-printer. The emergence of home-made firearms raises the need for effective regulations to prevent the printing of such items.

To begin with the participants discuss and reflect on the fundamental struggle between regulation and freedom in breakout sessions. In a second breakout session the participants adopt the role of either a government official, a private sector executive or a consumer. In this roleplay they simulate a round table discussion where the different parties come together and discuss why a collaboration with the other partys is beneficial to an effective outcome. The building block ends by collectively brainstorming values for possible regulations via a live word cloud visualization.

3D-Printing - Regulations for Today and Tomorrow - digital
Evaluating current 3D-printed firearm regulations and discussing possible improvements for the future.
3D-Printing, DIY Firearms, Freedom, Regulations, Responsibility, technological potential, Stakeholders
Perspective-Taking, Cooperation, Coping with Dilemmas of Decision-Making, Acting Morally
Forms of Learning
creative, cooperative
Discussion in the forum, Role play, Word Cloud
Group Size
30 minutes
Material and Space
E-learning unit with 4 sections
good - building block developed by participants in Berlin
Winter Semester 2020/21

Preparation and Follow-Up

Facilitators’ Preparation

The facilitators prepare a forum and set up the e-learning unit after updating it. To update they research the latest regulatory updates connected to home printed guns. They include diverse approaches from different countries to open up many facets of the topic. It is important that only reliable sources (preferably government sites) are considered. Facilitators also research recent real-life incidents exemplifying the dangers of 3D-printing firearms. A look into the newest 3D-printing technology can be necessary as well, especially seeing how fast it is developing nowadays. Facilitators should pay special attention to how this new technology can encourage firearm printing, regulate it, or even ban it.

Participants’ Preparation

The participants work through the e-learning unit in about 15 min. In the different sections they inform themselves about the topic, start reflecting on freedom and regulation and comment on each others’ thoughts.

Participants’ Follow-Up

The participants post their takeaways and newly formed opinions regarding this topic on the course’s forum, with aims to open a discussion forum with their friends. The follow up tasks take about 15 min to complete.


Minute 00 - Introduction


The facilitators welcome the participants, give an overview of the learning outcomes and questions to be answered throughout the building block. They emphasize the importance of regulating 3D-Printing technology with a brief reminder of a recent incident involving 3D-printed firearms. They also prepare breakout sessions with 3 students in each session.


Learning Outcomes of this Building Block

  • Recognising the importance of “early regulation” to minimizing the consequences of rapid technological development
  • Reflecting values for regulation that maintains equity amongst several stakeholders
  • Practicing cooperation in dilemmatic situations of decision-making

Schedule of Today’s Session

  • 00:00 - Introduction
  • 00:02 - Freedom vs. Regulation
  • 00:10 - Role Play - Round Table Discussion
  • 00:25 - Values for Regulation and Follow Up

Minute 02 - Freedom vs. Regulation


The facilitators present the task. They emphasize that the aim of a discussion about the struggle between freedom is to have a look at the bigger picture. The discussion should focus on general aspects not on 3D-printing specifically. They encourage conversation on real-life examples that are relevant to addressing the importance of either regulation or freedom. They post the task to the chat and then start the breakout sessions.

The participants discuss independently in small breakout sessions for about 5 min. They have already reflected on the topic in preparation and can now exchange and comment on their ideas further.


Task: Discuss the Significance of both “Freedom” and “Regulation” - group work - 5 min

  • The following questions can guide your discussion:
    • Why is freedom important?
    • Why is regulation important?
    • When do freedom and regulation conflict with each other?
    • When do freedom and regulation depend on each other?

Minute 9 - Role Play - Round Table Discussion


The facilitators connect the fundamental debate on freedom and regulation to the topic of 3D-printing. They emphasise the complexity of the situation by briefly summarising the already existing regulatory approaches presented in the preparation again.

The facilitators present the tool Mark Twain's Hammer, show the tasks for the role play and create breakout sessions of 3 to 6 people. They post the tasks to the chat.

The participants work on the tasks independently in groups of 3 to 6 students. They do not need a facilitator for the roleplay. They refer to the tool Mark Twain's Hammer, as it emphasises the need for cooperation between different stakeholders.


Current regulatory approaches

  • Dagoma’s “HarmlessGuns” Project - “Spreading harmless gun blueprints”
  • “Cura” Printing Lock
  • US Undetectable Firearms Act 2013

Mark Twain’s Hammer

When your only tool is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail. - Mark Twain

Problems are often turned into technological problems, to the point that all problems are technological for which a technological solution will be found soon enough.

Roleplay - A Round Table Discussion

  • different parties come together
  • they discuss why collaboration between the parties is important to democratically find effective regulatory measures
  • specific suggestions for 3D-printing regulation are not part of this role play

Overview of Tasks for the Role Play - group work - 15 min

  • Task 1: Organise your roles (1 min)
  • Task 2: Individually prepare for the role play (4 min)
  • Task 3: Share opinions and arguments in the role play (10 min)

Task 1: Organise your roles - 1 min

  • Distribute the following roles amongst you equally:
  • Government Officials
  • Private Sector Executives
  • Customers of 3D-printers

Task 2: Individual preparation for the roleplay - 3 min

  • Take notes on the following question from the perspective of your role
  • Why do you want to cooperate with the other parties to develop sustainable regulation?

Overview of roles for the round table discussion

  • Government Officials - As a government official you represent a legal authority of a democratic country. Your regulatory means include legal approaches such as law-making and law-enforcement.
  • Private Sector Executives - As a representative of the industry and manufacturer your know-how and competences lie in the field of technological and system-implemented approaches.
  • Consumer - As a consumer you are interested in safe technology but regulation must be reasonable. You want to participate and bring in your ideas

Task 3: Share opinions and arguments in the role play - 10 min

  • Get started directly, without any moderation
  • One representative starts telling the other parties, why collaboration with the others is important to him/her
  • The person speaking asks an other party to speak next
  • Shortly post your arguments into the chat during the entire role play

Note: You can of course also state why collaboration between different parties may be counterproductive in some situations but the focus lies on advantages of cooperation.

Task 4: Form a conclusion together - 2 min

  • Conclude on a short argumentation about why collaboration between private and public is important when regulating a technology in general
  • Orientate on the keywords you have posted into the chat
  • One person posts the most important aspects to to this forum as a reply to this post

Minute 25 – Values for Regulation and Follow Up


The facilitators ask the participants to reflect on the past 25 minutes and think about the following questions and take notes:

  • What criteria determines if a regulation is effective?
  • What values should be taken into consideration when regulating technologies?

The facilitators must encourage the participants to also think about values next to cooperation as this was discussed in the past 25 minutes already.

The facilitators provide a tool for a wordcloud (e.g. via mentimeter). They ask everyone to contribute 3 criteria or values they find important when it comes to regulating technology. The facilitators share their screen with the growing cloud and upload the final version to the forum afterwards.

At the end of the session they present the follow up task.

The participants come up with criteria and values and submit them to the word cloud.


Task: Find Values Regulation - 2 min

  • Take notes on the following questions:
    • What criteria determines if a regulation is effective?
    • What values should be taken into consideration when regulating technologies?
    • also consider aspects next to cooperation and inclusion of all parties

Today’s Follow-Up - Creating a discussion of your own!

  • Think of a controversial topic where there is a public debate on regulation
  • Write a short paragraph (about 100 words) on the following questions:
  • Can the values and criteria from the word cloud contribute to a solution?
  • Submit your text as an reply to this post
  • Comment on at least one texts of the others

Notes and Remarks

Authors’ Note

Focus on time management, especially during transitions between breakout sessions. The building block can be extended with giving more time to the breakout sessions and/or including reflection in the big group.

The topic of 3D-Printing is advancing rapidly, therefore new technological approaches need to be evaluated when repeating this building block in the future.

This building block deals with the topic of regulation by taking the example of 3D-printing. The facilitators have to make sure that the discussions do not drift off to too technical aspects. The moral and societal questions must be in focus.

Further Notes

Still to come.




Participants’ Preparation


The e-learning unit consists of three main sections:

  • The Classic “Freedom vs. Regulation” Controversy
  • Difference in Governmental Regulation Analysis
  • Case Studies about Current Regulatory Approaches

Preparation 01 - The Classic “Freedom vs. Regulation” Controversy

  • The Classic “Freedom vs. Regulation” Controversy
    • One just has to look around to realize that government regulation inserts itself into every aspect of our lives. When it comes to regulating or not regulating a technology, often a classic freedom vs regulation debate kicks off. On the one hand, individuals fear being excessively deprived of their self-determination. On the other hand, it must be ensured that a technology does not lead to social injustice and harm.

Task: Before we dive into the topic of 3D-printing in that context we want to ask you to reflect on the supposed controversy between freedom and regulation. Please answer the following questions shortly in a reply to this post:

  • Why is freedom important?
  • Why is regulation important?
  • When do freedom and regulation conflict with each other?
  • When do freedom and regulation depend on each other?

Preparation 02 - 3D-Printing of Firearms in a Nutshell

- Insert Image of the Liberator created by Cody Wilson (source: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/31/us/3d-printed-plastic-guns/index.html)-

Current technologies are advancing at exponential rates, granting individuals the ability of creating potentially any tangible product they desire. Will this technology pose a threat to our societies in light of an ability to print firearms?

“3D-printed firearms are a dream come true for criminal weapon traffickers… They’re accessible to anybody, they’re undetectable by metal-detector technology, and they’re untraceable by law enforcement” states Adam Skaggs, chief counsel for Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Despite 3D-printer technology still having many limitations for creating completely reliable weapons, some of the designs that have already been made public, combined with some of the unique qualities of 3D-printing, have raised concerns. Those concerns include the ability to evade security systems with weapons made of plastic, the potential to bypass background checks and the general safety of using 3D-printed guns.

That 3D-printed guns are no problem of the future but of the present has already become clear. In October 2019 Stephan Balliet only took one plastic weapon on the rampage that left two people dead in Halle (Germany). After further investigation, it was revealed that the gun had been 3D-printed.

“Defcad”, an unregulated file-sharing website, launched what became the first 3D-printing gun community. The founder Cody Wilson uploaded his design files for “ghost guns” - firearms without serial numbers. In a few days, there were more than 100000 downloads. The files spread like wildfire across the international borders of the Internet. He was stopped by the FBI and was forced to delete all the files he had uploaded, however it was too late, because the files were downloaded and republished by countless other anonymous users. With such fast rates of advancement, how can we ensure that the personal production of firearms is properly regulated in light of just and fair democratic consideration?

Preparation 03 - Different Approaches to Regulation

There are different approaches to prevent harm through personal production of firearms from mainly two parties: the government and the private sector, namely the companies producing 3D-printers. A few legal approaches from three countries and two technological approaches are summarized in the following.

Governmental Approaches

The following segments have been collected from various government/trusted sources, and specify what current regulations exist in three countries to address the personal 3D-printing of firearms.

Task: Please be critical when reading. Keep this question in mind: How do the approaches to freedom differ in different countries? Are the regulations effective enough to prevent harm?

In the United States, the right to produce weapons can be protected by the Second Amendment. It is entirely legal for a person to construct a fully functional gun if it is for personal use. There are no licensing or registration requirements unless the person sells or gives away the homemade gun. That includes 3D-printed guns.

Anyways, the United States Congress extended the Undetectable Firearms Act in 2013. This law makes it illegal to have or make any firearm that is not detectable by a metal detector. That would include plastic-only, 3D-printed firearms. To be legal, an all-plastic, 3D-printed firearm must be modified with a metal plate built into the body of the weapon for electronic detection purposes. But since most of these guns are printed without government oversight, there are no regulations or checks to ensure that this law is followed.

In Germany, the production of weapons is regulated by law, and you need a Waffenherstellungserlaubnis (‘permission to produce arms’) to do so (Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz 2014).

In the United Kingdom the manufacture of firearms without a license is prohibited under the Firearms Act 1968. However, although 3D weapons are already covered, the UK government has updated its legislation to prohibit manufacturing, sale, purchase, and possession of firearms.

Current Regulatory Approaches for 3D- Printing

Task: Please be critical when watching the video. Keep this question in mind: Can technology on its own as a problem solver be sufficient enough in preventing harm?

In this short video about a tech-company you can learn more about their strategy: https://vimeo.com/366759897

Presence time - Materials


No materials needed.

Participants’ Follow-Up - Materials


No materials need to be provided. The facilitators explain the task at the end of the session. Participants work on it after the presence phase but continue to interact by commenting on each other.


Follow-Up Task: Creating a discussion of your own!

  • Think of a controversial topic where there is a public debate on regulation
  • Write a short paragraph (about 100 words) on following questions:
  • Can the values and criteria from the word cloud contribute to a solution?
  • Submit your text as an reply to this post
  • Comment on at least one texts of the others