3D Printing

3D printed guns: a growing threat on the UK streets

5th December 2022
Sheryl Miles

Advancements in the 3D printing industry are accelerating at a rapid rate, and the technology’s capability is seemingly limitless. Most of these advancements are positive steps forward, and they are geared towards the betterment of society.

3D printing technology has been used to build schools for underprivileged children, replace parts on space rockets … and even give new limbs to animals. It’s safe to say that the technology is a fascinating and evolving area, and one which is only likely to grow.

But, as with anything that gains popularity, there will always be a way to use it for bad, and police in the UK are taking note of a slow-rising trend – the 3D printed gun.

With 3D printers becoming cheaper and technology making the lives of consumers easier every day, it means that to produce anything in 3D is becoming simpler. 3D printers work by taking information from a computer-aided design (CAD) programme and then building whatever design it has been programmed to create in a layering process.

In October 2022, Police in the UK discovered an alleged 3D firearms factory in London, and the National Crime Agency (NCA) have recognised that these weapons are evolving from unreliable single-shot guns to credible automatic firearms – capable of firing multiple rounds. There are even free resources readily available online with detailed instructions on how to manufacture a 3D printed weapon.

Police are keen to iterate that though their popularity is rising, there are some fundamental elements that cannot be printed – such as the bullets and barrel which can still be discovered by security processes. However, around 80 – 90% of the weapon can be printed.

Having a 3D printed weapon means that they aren’t governed by EU regulations, and they have no traceable serial number. Speaking in an interview with the BBC, Dr Rajan Basra, Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, warns that terrorists have a history of copying methods that have proven effectiveness, and that if 3D printed guns are used in a successful attack on a mass-scale, it would send a message that they work. Once their effectiveness is proven, they could become the gun of choice.

Some people believe the growing popularity of these weapons is because of COVID. When the boarders were shut, it was not possible to smuggle weapons in and out of the country, and it was the need to supply the demand for weapons that led criminals down a different path.

Mr Perfect, the NCAs Head of the National Firearms Targeting Centre, told the BBC that there has been a significant increase on the number of recovered 3D printed firearms, based on the same period for the prior year.

However, of the 500 traditional firearms that have been seized in the UK, the number of seized printed guns in the UK remains relatively low, at around 1 – 2% recovered since 2019. But police warn that they are showing up enough to have entered their radar.

The UK isn’t the only country to see a rise in popularity, 3D guns have also appeared in Spain, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands.

There will always be a way for someone to manipulate technology towards the destruction of mankind but, on the whole, the advancement of technology is a positive step in the right direction for both the planet and mankind.

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