AMS Spring 2023

Australian Teen Accused of Manufacturing Fully Functional 3D Printed Firearm           

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On Monday, Western Australia Detective Senior Sargent Blair Smith announced charges against an 18-year-old man for illegally manufacturing and possessing firearms. The teen is accused of using a 3D printer and readily accessible material to manufacture a fully functioning, untraceable so-called ghost gun, a privately made firearm without serial numbers that is increasingly cropping up in violent crimes.

The 18-year-old man from Bayswater, in the Western Australian city of Perth, was charged with several firearm offenses after a search warrant was executed at his home on Slade Street. On June 3, 2022, detectives from the Western Australia Police Force’s Drug and Firearm Squad, including Smith, arrived at the young man’s home, where they located the fully-functioning 3D printed firearm (seen in the image below), along with a 3D printer, suppressor, ammunition, and a barrel manufacturing station. In addition, a number of gel blasters, also known as water pellets or splatter-ball guns, were also found during the search.

Australian detective with the 3D printed firearm seized from an 18-year old man.

Australian detective with the 3D printed firearm seized from an 18-year-old man. Image courtesy of Western Australia Police Force via Twitter.

Officials believe the man, who does not possess a valid firearms license, manufactured the weapon using a 3D printer and readily accessible materials. He is now facing eight charges, including unlicensed manufacture of firearms and ammunition, possession of prohibited weapons and a silencer, and is due to appear before the Perth Magistrates Court on June 20, 2022.

During a press conference, Smith said that this is the first time a fully functional 3D printed firearm has been seized in Western Australia.

“This firearm, although it resembles a toy, has the ability to cause serious harm in our community. It is deeply concerning that this man was able to manufacture this firearm at home with a 3D printer and readily available materials. These types of firearms are unregulated, unlicensed, and have no place in our community,” highlighted the detective.

Now that the first 3D printed ghost gun has been discovered in the state, the Drug and Firearm Squad remains relentless in identifying anyone who will use a 3D printer to manufacture an unlicensed functional gun. Smith said his team would use available data to locate and prosecute any individual who prints these types of ghost guns with serious firearm offenses.

Growing concern

Although this may be the first offense of its kind in Western Australia, the country has already arrested at least 17 individuals for fabricating weapons with 3D printers, most of them in the last three years. Our own research on 3D printed gun arrests, published on June 8, 2022, revealed that Australia is one of the three countries with more 3D printed gun-related arrests worldwide, representing 17% of total arrests.

For example, in June 2021, two men were arrested after investigators seized two 3D printed submachine guns during the National Anti-Gangs Squad operation targeting the manufacture and supply of prohibited firearms. Another high-profile case that same year involved the arrest of an alleged right-wing extremist accused of possessing a blueprint to 3D print a gun and making “significant preparations” to manufacture a firearm.

Western Australia Drug and Firearm Squad Detective Senior Sargent Blair Smith during the press conference.

Western Australia Drug and Firearm Squad Detective Senior Sargent Blair Smith during the press conference. Image courtesy of Western Australia Police Force via Twitter.

For some time, Australian authorities have warned that the potential use of 3D printers to make firearms severely threatened community safety. The New South Wales (NSW) State Crime Commands Drug and Firearms Squad even established Strike Force Tamerang in 2021 to investigate the increase of 3D printed firearms, firearm parts, and firearm blueprints imported and manufactured in the state.

Since then, the initiative has resulted in several arrests, including a man in Sydney’s western suburbs who was apprehended and charged after police located multiple unfinished 3D printed firearms, firearm parts, and other materials allegedly used to manufacture 3D printed ghost guns.

3D printed guns have become a major issue in other countries as well, particularly in the US and Canada, where, according to 3DPrint.com’s research, there have been over 80 arrests combined. Blueprints for 3D printed guns are readily available online, and on the dark web, so gun regulators struggle to keep track of weapons. Governments are also trying to play catch up with 3D printed gun makers. In the US, the Biden Administration said it would introduce ghost gun reforms to the 3D printing industry, including “Final Rule 2021R-05F,” which redefines firearm parts and bans the business of manufacturing the most accessible ghost guns.

In Australia, using a 3D printer for manufacturing a firearm without an applicable license is a serious criminal offense that can carry a maximum penalty of 10 years. Furthermore, the maximum penalty can increase to 20 years if the individual is caught unlawfully manufacturing a pistol or prohibited firearm. In NSW, legislation has been passed that even prohibits any blueprints or digital files that can be used to manufacture weapons. That means if someone is caught possessing this type of file, they could face 14 years in prison.

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