Police in the UK recovered a 3D-printed gun and what they believe is a 3D-printed magazine for bullets during a raid in Manchester yesterday. Next to the gun was a high-tech 3D printer, which police fear might have been part of a bigger scheme to churn out a new type of firearm.
This isn’t the first such gun ever made or found—that honor belongs to the Liberator, designed by Defense Distributed. The single-shot gun has sixteen functional parts, fifteen of which are made from plastic, including the springs. The only non-plastic part is a nail that functions as the firing pin. A 3D printer can produce the body of the gun overnight, and printing a new barrel takes only a matter of few hours.
While Defense Distributor claims that the Liberator is symbolic and meant to demonstrate the impossibility of governmental gun control, the company made the open source design available online in early May. It was downloaded over 100,000 before the US State Department Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance demanded that they take down the blueprints on the grounds that the ability to download the weapons files abroad constituted a violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations export laws.
The Detective Inspector on the Manchester case fears that the accessibility, availability, and relatively inexpensiveness of devices such as 3D printers has begun to usher in a new, high-tech age for organized crime. It’s not just individuals he’s worried about, but the gangs of people who could relatively easily get their hands on such weapons and then conceal and/or transport them. “These people are [not] cleverer than us,” he said. “They are just more violent than us.” It hasn’t been confirmed whether the gun in question was a Liberator or another model, but either way, fears that 3D printing could not only be used to create weapons, and weapons that avoid triggering metal detectors, continue to build.
The Manchester police have arrested and are currently questioning the man they believe is responsible. They want to confirm that the gun and magazine are indeed a viable weapon, and that they were printed with the device they found. Gigaom, a U.S. tech blog, reported that the plastic pieces seized by police were actually spare parts for the printer. The police, however, have released a statement indicating that they aren’t finished with their examination. Regardless of the outcome, I think we can all agree that it’s a good thing there are no 3D printers capable of printing anti-matter guns. Yet.