Dutch police recently revealed that there has been a significant increase in 3D printed weapons in the Netherlands and abroad. The announcement comes after the National Unit, which combats serious organized crime and terrorism, reported the results of an investigation into 3D printed firearms during the International Conference on 3D Printed Firearms held last month at the Hague.
According to an official statement, Dutch police have been detecting signs that 3D printed firearms would be on the rise. Even though the study results show that the supply of ready-to-use 3D printed firearms is currently small compared to the supply of conventional firearms, they see an apparent increase in 3D printed gun confiscations. Our own research also shows that gun arrests have tripled in less than two years and that there have been considerably more seizures of 3D printed firearms and parts. Furthermore, 3DPrint.com’s investigation detected that even though North America leads the arrest statistics, it is quickly followed by Europe.
First of many
For the investigation, the Dutch police decided to map the phenomenon to recognize the extent of the problem within the country. The research shows that since 2021 there has been a sharp increase in seizures of printed firearms or parts and that the most commonly encountered 3D printed gun variants are not reliable.
Last year, 3D printed firearms and printed parts were seized in 14 investigations in the Netherlands. For example, in November 2021, police found a 3D weapons factory in a house in Rhoon. Among the findings, they seized nine 3D printers making parts of firearms at the time of the raid, dozens of pieces that had already been printed, and sets with metal parts used to make a working firearm. Another high-profile case involved five suspects arrested in December 2021 after police found an arsenal of automatic firearms, electroshock weapons, rifles, and revolvers, along with various 3D printers for printing firearms parts.
Several 3D printed firearms have also been found this year, including last February, when a man from Zeeland was arrested during a raid for possessing 3D printed firearms and right-wing extremist material, including Nazi flags, Airsoft weapons, and other weapon parts made with a 3D printer.
Many of the weapons seized by police last year were fully 3D printed, but most models consist partially of metal parts. As part of the research, Dutch police highlighted the surprising number of workshops found, most of them intended for larger-scale printing of firearms.
As part of their research, the team, which is part of the National Criminal Investigation Service (DLR), examined how well the different 3D printed firearms function to determine the level of endangerment.
According to the report, the most commonly encountered variant of a 3D printed firearm is described as unreliable. To prove this, police self-constructed several weapons and carried out various shooting tests with confiscated firearms, and realized that there were several malfunctions and defects. The team says the main reasons are production errors and the failing material.
To shed some light on the matter, 3DPrint.com’s Editor in Chief, Michael Molitch-Hou, explained in 2020 that 3D printed guns have so far “posed little threat to the public since the plastic parts are easily destroyed by the extreme forces of the weapon upon firing.” Firearm experts have also expressed that plastic weapons require high-end printers and are known to blow up in shooters’ hands, claiming it is far easier to obtain access to an authorized weapon in many countries (as well as illegal firearms in others).
However, some of the latest news represents a growing trend in the 3D printing of arms. Widespread cases continue to bring 3D printed guns to the center of media attention; one of the most recent was a Springfield, Massachusetts man arrested after allegedly 3D printing AR-15 guns in his home.
“With 3D-printed firearms, the police recognize that not only criminal networks but also other groups can be of interest because of the accessibility of these firearms. Compared to conventional firearms, these firearms do not require the intervention of traders who obtain firearms from abroad. It is, therefore, necessary to prevent access to these weapons as much as possible,” expressed the Dutch police in a statement.
The team also focused on the current legal framework. Currently, possessing, manufacturing, and trading a firearm or essential parts in the Netherlands is punishable under the Weapons and Ammunition Act. That also applies to a 3D printed firearm. However, possessing the designs of 3D printed guns (the so-called blueprints) and sharing those files is not. Even though spreading these blueprints can have major consequences, and any involvement can result in criminal preparation or collaboration—punishable to those who contribute—Andy Kraag, head of the national investigation, told local media site NOS that the police and justice want to discuss whether “technological barriers” can be erected in printers to make it more difficult to 3D print weapons.
Before 2021, virtually no 3D printed firearms or parts were seized in the Netherlands. Alternatively, other countries found 3D printed guns in terrorist attacks, including the one at a synagogue in Halle, Germany, which left two people dead. The creation of 3D printed guns by neo-Nazi Stephan Balliet, who launched the 2019 shooting attack in Germany, was described as a warning to security services by experts, according to UK newspaper The Independent. Both international and local events have alerted Dutch police, who said they are keeping a close eye on developments around 3D printed firearms.
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