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Australia’s Gold Coast: Loaded 3D Printed Gun Found in Raid of Sophisticated Meth Lab

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It was bound to happen, but who would have thought so soon? Just on the heels of further Aussie legislation and restrictions on 3D printed guns so as to begin pre-empting their possession from irresponsible and criminal hands, that’s now exactly where they have been found.

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The scene of the bust, which yielded a loaded, 3D printed gun.

In a meth lab bust offering up an inactive but surprisingly sophisticated drug lab as well as other contraband of significant interest, Queensland Police made quite a raid recently near the Gold Coast, which is the second largest city in the state, most famously known as a surfer’s mecca. With such geographical popularity there is of course the typical offering of every recreation possible, to include many that do not mesh with the law. Now, 3D printing of weapons is being lumped into those illegal activities too.

In their recent raid, the police not only found a high-level methamphetamine lab, but also evidence of some criminals–or cohorts–who were skilled enough at the 3D printer to fabricate what appeared to be fully functioning–and fully loaded–gun.

“We have a printed 3D-handgun that is actually loaded,” said Detective Inspector Brendan Smith. “And then, throughout the bushland we now have discovered about 10 different hidey holes with different bits of lab equipment and other paraphernalia and what looks like chemicals.”

The location, at a building in Mudgeeraba, was apparently being used as a place of illegal activity by numerous individuals who were arrested, to include two women and two men. Police indicated that one of the men may also be linked to the Lone Wolf biker gang, a violent organization Australian law enforcement officials have been working diligently to crack down on and dismantle permanently. So far, we know that the ‘bikie,’ as motorcycle gang members are commonly known in Australia, was charged with two counts of possessing dangerous drugs, one count each of unlawful possession of weapons, disobedience of a lawful order, keeping a loaded firearm, possession of drug utensils, and possibly more. As he appears in court tomorrow, further charges are expected.

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A sample 3D printed gun produced by NSW Police during testing purposes.

While the controversy over 3D printed guns is certainly not limited to Australia, we’ve been following aggressive new legislation in their country with interest–as have many–with numerous and recent restrictions on 3D printed weapons being instituted–most specifically that of New South Wales, the first parliament to pass a law restricting the possession of files for 3D printing weapons, with approval of the Firearms and Weapons Prohibition Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. While some restrictions had already been placed on possession of 3D printed guns, now it is a criminal offense to have a digital file meant for fabrication of guns–and defying this law can mean up to 14 years in prison. This law, in concept, would prevent 3D printing of guns altogether, theoretically halting the problem before it even reaches physical form.

At the time that legislation went into effect in New South Wales, experts weighed in with the obvious perspective that it may be too little too late legally as criminals already have 3D printing technology in their hands and certainly aren’t going to stop using it when they are busy breaking much more serious laws.

“[The new law] makes sense, if you believe in the deterrent effect of law. This stuff shouldn’t be available to everybody, but maybe it already has. This is like closing the gate after the horse has bolted,” said Australian National University professor of criminology Roderic Broadhurst.

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Police on the scene of the meth lab bust. [Photo: David Clark]

This latest bust is certainly one small chink in the chain of crime, offering some preliminary evidence that the experts are probably right on target. It also adds fuel to the fiery conversation and debate regarding guns overall, with the 3D printing subset being just one more consideration.

“3D printers have become less costly and much more capable. In this university, about 12 years ago we bought a very sophisticated printer for $750,000. The same quality today would be about $2500, second-hand, and would fit on your desk,” Broadhurst said. “It is the scaling up of capacity and drop in price, combined with readily available software — that’s what we’re dealing with.”

Opinions on all sides are hotly debated, and despite the immense good that 3D printing is doing in the world, one thing that we do not have to hotly debate is that indeed, the weapons conversation regarding 3D printing is distinctly negative.  What are your thoughts on this story?  Let us know in the 3D Printed Loaded Gun forum on 3DPB.com.

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