Around the world, police are discovering a disturbing new trend towards an increase in the use of novel 3D printed firearms.
This week a US court sentenced a man to three and a half years prison for creating and selling 3D printed parts for AR-15 rifles.
Specifically, he had been using a CNC machine to in order to build the ‘lower receiver’ of an AR-15, a critical component whose sale would normally require a government license.
Advertising himself as Dr Death on gun forums, he had built many such lower receivers free from government-mandated serial numbers.
He was eventually caught however in an undercover operation, and in court, the sentencing judge declared that it was a “brazen attempt to circumvent the law”.
Elsewhere in the world, 3D printed guns are being illegally manufactured in countries with strict existing controls on firearms.
In December last year in Melbourne, Australia, local police raided a house containing a number of 3D printed firearms, as well as a printer which had allegedly been used to fabricate the seized weapons.
The weapons bust, which was the first in the state, followed a similar raid on a house containing an illicit “weapons factory” in the northern state of Queensland earlier that month. This raid uncovered a 3D printer among other machinery used to make guns.
3D printed guns enter the mainstream
Currently, 3D printed guns are very rudimentary. The most popular designs, such as the ‘Liberator’ handgun, are made from thermoplastic and can only safely fire a few shots before they destroy themselves.
Nonetheless, 3D printed plastic guns pose a threat as they cannot be easily detected by metal detectors.
In 2016, for the first time ever, TSA agents at an airport in the US confiscated a 3D printed ‘replica’ gun, as well as a number of real .22 bullets.
The real problems with 3D printed guns, however, will begin when devices working with metal begin to reduce in price. Right now a device which can 3D print metal parts costs over $500,000, outside the budget of most criminals.
Should this price fall, we can expect to see an explosion in underground 3D-printing weapons factories, especially in countries with tough gun laws.