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Police found a loaded 3D printed gun at a meth lab last year. [Image: David Clark]

For the past year or so, we’ve been following the continuing story of Australia’s 3D printed gun issue. The country has strict gun laws, but the government has grown increasingly concerned about the opportunity for criminals to fabricate their own weapons using 3D printers. The debate over how dangerous 3D printed guns truly are is an ongoing one, but the Australian government certainly feels that concern is warranted, particularly after last year’s infamous incident in which a loaded 3D printed gun was discovered during a meth lab raid – only weeks after a law was passed banning the possession of 3D files for guns.

Earlier this year, police confiscated the 3D printer believed to have been used to create the gun, along with arresting several additional suspects. Now, almost exactly one year after the original meth lab raid, Australia is back in the news. Over the weekend, police raids of a Melbourne organized crime group turned up 14 guns as well as a 3D printer suspected to have been used for gun fabrication. Two stolen vehicles, cash and drugs were also allegedly seized during the raid, and seven men and two women were arrested.

Superintendent Amy Gladden called 3D printed guns a “significant risk to the community.”

“It’s relatively new technology and it’s been tested in forensic areas in different police agencies and this is one time we’ve actually seized them in Victoria,” she said.

ford_territory_vehicle_of_the_queensland_police_02The incident was the second raid involving guns and 3D printers within a few weeks’ time. In November, Queensland police found four machine guns, a 3D printer, and additional weapons manufacturing equipment, as well as silencers, drugs and a commercial pill press. According to Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker, it appeared as though the homemade guns (though they weren’t confirmed to be 3D printed), which he described as similar to Uzi machine guns, had been discharged. Five men were charged with drug offenses, and another two were arrested.

“The Uzi machine gun itself can discharge between 500-600 rounds per minute, so it’s very concerning to think that these weapons are being made here in Queensland,” said Wacker.

The guns seized in the Melbourne raid this past weekend, however, appeared to be of low quality, according to the University of Wollongong’s Thomas Birtchnell, a senior lecturer specializing in 3D printing and manufacturing. Birtchnell believes that the individuals arrested were trying to produce cheap plastic handguns and are unlikely to be capable of creating more sophisticated and dangerous weapons, at least at this time.

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Thomas Birtchnell

Plastic handguns are the most commonly produced type of 3D printed gun, as they’re inexpensive, but the risk they present is minimal, according to many. The real concern, said Birtchnell, is whether metal 3D printing technology becomes affordable enough for criminals to start using it to create weapons. The first 3D printed metal guns were produced by Solid Concepts, now part of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, more than three years ago, but metal 3D printers are generally still priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – not in the budget of most criminals and criminal organizations, Birtchnell continued. Costs of metal 3D printers are coming down, though, and that means that it may soon be time to worry.

“We will see a step change if metal 3D printing becomes consumer level,” he said. “It’s a debatable question but certainly the technology is coming down…Metal 3D printing really is the Holy Grail for industry so on the back of that it would be really beneficial for criminal gangs as well.”

Discuss in the 3D Printed Guns forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: News.com.au / ABC News]
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