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New Zealand Police Seize First 3D Printed Gun in Gang Bust

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New Zealand Police officers discovered a 3D-printed gun after they busted the home of a gang member wanted for breaching his bail conditions. After the bust on May 29, 2021, at Auckland’s waterfront suburb of Te Atatū, the Waitematā Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) reported this is the first 3D-printed gun they have ever encountered.

Stuff released a photo of the surprising discovery. Printed in either PLA or ABS plastic, the orange and white firearm was marked with a phrase – that has been etched – indicating a semi-automatic pistol caliber carbine designed and manufactured by an online, anonymous European figure. As most weapons of this kind are completely void of a serial number, it would have been impossible to trace it back to the owner if police had failed to seize the weapon.

Mostly 3D printed, the gun combines printed parts, including the frame and grip, with off-the-shelf components, like a metal barrel, firing pins, and live rounds within a homemade magazine, which are required for it to operate. Found fully assembled, the 3D printed gun is now part of an ongoing investigation and has the police on heightened alert over the ease of obtaining a firearm privately at home and could raise additional concerns surrounding gang violence.

Australia police with 3D printed gun. Courtesy of ABC Australia.

After the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019 by a suspected white supremacist who murdered his victims with semi-automatic weapons, New Zealand has tightened gun control laws. The country released two sets of gun reforms prohibiting high-risk firearms like short semi-automatic rifles, tighter rules for gun dealers, and reduced length of a firearms license for first-time license holders. The most significant change is the new firearms registry, which license holders will be required to update as they buy or sell guns.

In 2020, Minister of Police Stuart Nash said the new law is designed to stop firearms from falling into the wrong hands. For the first time, it spells out that owning a firearm is a privilege, limited to responsible licensed owners. As for 3D printed guns, there are no specific laws in New Zealand against downloading a CAD file for a 3D printed gun, but it is unquestionably illegal to manufacture and possess a firearm without a license.

In other countries of the Asia-Pacific region, like Singapore and Japan, new laws criminalize possession of blueprints for 3D printing guns. At the same time, Australia’s state of New South Wales has chosen to limit 3D printing guns by equating possession of the relevant CAD files with possession of a firearm, so even those with a firearms license may not download the files. However, experts have acknowledged that, even if there are laws against downloading blueprints to manufacture a 3D-printed gun, it remains challenging to stop it.

American libertarian Cody Wilson made the world’s first single-shot 3D printed plastic gun, the Liberator.380, using fused deposition modeling (FDM) on a Stratasys Dimension SST in 2013. Since then, governments and police forces worldwide have been on the alert. The debate as to the legality of homemade firearms has been raging on. Without any commercial serial number, this type of weapon classifies as a “ghost gun” and could escalate its threat level as 3D printing technology matures and becomes more widely available to at-home users and gun enthusiasts.

Head Hunters gang in New Zealand. Image courtesy of Bike News New Zealand.

This particular 3D printed weapon was found in the home of a member of one of the most dangerous organized criminal operations in the country. Known as the Head Hunters gang, the group was recently busted as part of Operation Trojan Shield, a major international enforcement action targeting the importation, sale, and supply of methamphetamine, as well as money laundering in more than a dozen countries around the world, including the US, Australia, and Europe. The Head Hunters gang has been responsible for major crimes in New Zealand, including the manufacture and sale of controlled substances, organized theft, and murder, so the fact that one of its members is manufacturing homemade weapons comes as no surprise.

Gang culture is reported to be on the rise in New Zealand, with police figures showing a 13% increase in recruits in 2019, mainly linked to the arrival of gang members from Australia after a controversial deportation policy. National member of Parliament (MP) Simon Bridges recently claimed that there have always been gangs in the country but “nothing like what we see today.” The comment echoes rather worrying figures that have emerged lately, estimating that there are now over 8,000 gang members. More gang members translate to more crime and violence, and even though Auckland police said that the seizure of the 3D printed gun was not linked to recent tensions between the Head Hunters and Mongols gangs, inquiries are ongoing, and charges following the discovery of the firearm are likely.

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