What are 3D-printed guns and why are they dangerous?
3D-printed guns are firearms that can be made at home using a 3D printer and digital blueprints. They are also known as ghost guns because they do not have serial numbers and are difficult to trace by law enforcement.
Some 3D-printed guns are made entirely of plastic, while others use metal parts or converted blank-firing guns. They can fire real bullets and cause serious harm or death. They are also easy to conceal and transport, making them attractive to criminals and terrorists.
3D-printed gun technology has rapidly advanced in recent years, with a range of printable semi-automatic rifles, carbines and pistols available online. The files needed to print these guns can be found on mainstream social media sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, as well as on the dark web.
How prevalent are 3D-printed guns in the UK?
According to new figures released by Police Scotland, two incidents involving 3D-printed guns were recorded in 2021, marking the first time that such weapons have been found in Scotland. The force did not disclose the details of the cases, but said they were working with key partners to prevent the risk posed by the manufacture, distribution and possession of the crafted firearms.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) also reported a fourfold increase in seizures of 3D-printed guns in the UK, from three in 2019 to 17 in 2021. Some of the cases involved homemade submachine guns that could fire multiple rounds at a time. The NCA has called for legislation that would outlaw the ownership of blueprints and change the definition of what a gun is, so that something that is part-built is a gun.
The NCA has also set up a project called Interknow, which aims to bring together experts on 3D-printed firearms and train police officers to identify the weapons and the equipment needed to make them. The project is also monitoring the online activity of 3D-printed gun enthusiasts, who often share instructions and videos of testing the weapons on social media.
What are the implications of 3D-printed guns for public safety and security?
3D-printed guns pose a serious threat to public safety and security, as they can be used by anyone who has access to a 3D printer and the internet, regardless of their criminal history or background checks. They can also bypass existing gun laws and regulations, such as licensing, registration and safe storage.
3D-printed guns can also be used for various criminal and terrorist purposes, such as robbery, murder, assassination, mass shooting, and sabotage. They can also be smuggled across borders and sold on the black market. Moreover, they can be used to intimidate and coerce individuals and groups, such as witnesses, journalists, activists, and politicians.
3D-printed guns also raise ethical and legal questions, such as who is responsible for the harm caused by these weapons, how to regulate and control their production and distribution, and how to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals and communities.
How can 3D-printed guns be prevented and combated?
There is no easy solution to the problem of 3D-printed guns, as they are a complex and evolving phenomenon that requires a multi-faceted and coordinated approach. Some of the possible measures that can be taken to prevent and combat 3D-printed guns are:
- Legislation and enforcement: Creating and enforcing laws that prohibit the possession, manufacture, and transfer of 3D-printed guns and their components, as well as the blueprints and software needed to make them. This would also include updating the definition of firearms and expanding the powers of police and customs to search and seize 3D-printed guns and related materials.
- Education and awareness: Raising public awareness of the dangers and consequences of 3D-printed guns, as well as the legal and moral implications of using them. This would also include educating 3D printer owners and users about their responsibilities and liabilities, and encouraging them to report any suspicious or illegal activity involving 3D-printed guns.
- Detection and disruption: Developing and deploying technologies and methods that can detect and disrupt 3D-printed guns and their production, such as scanners, sensors, trackers, blockers, and jamming devices. This would also include monitoring and removing online content and platforms that promote and facilitate 3D-printed gun making.
- Cooperation and collaboration: Establishing and strengthening partnerships and networks among various stakeholders, such as law enforcement, intelligence, security, government, industry, academia, civil society, and media, to share information, expertise, and resources, and to coordinate actions and responses to 3D-printed gun threats.