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Florida Man Accused of Selling 3D Printed Machinegun to Undercover Agent

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A criminal complaint filed by a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent resulted in a Jacksonville, Florida man’s arrest and indictment for creating homemade fully automatic weapons using a 3D printer with the intent to sell the guns on the street.

According to an ATF document filed with the Middle District Court of Florida on January 24, 2023, 27-year-old Lucas Shirley was making and selling guns out of his home when he was contacted by an undercover ATF agent and his informant, who asked about unserialized, privately made machine guns and short-barreled weapons.

In the 28-page ATF criminal complaint, the agent claims Shirley agreed to manufacture and sell firearms that were easily concealable (short-barreled) and fully-automatic (machine guns). Working undercover, the agent stated that he conducted a “controlled purchase” of firearms and that, once inside Shirley’s house to carry out the transaction, he noticed different tools and materials, including a “silver metallic substance on the kitchen floor” and a “3D printer on the living room floor.”

After Shirley brought out three privately made rifles and one silencer, the agent inquired about the printed firearm parts, to which Shirley replied that “he was using a new source and could get parts shipped out the next business day.” According to the document, the suspect claimed that once the components came in, he could have a firearm ready the same day for $1,200 for each set-up, which included a short-barreled machine gun, silencer, and brass catcher (a device designed to capture cartridge casings as they are ejected from a firearm).

Fully Armed

The complaint claims that Shirley sold seven firearms to the undercover agent in two different transactions for $14,800. During the first sale, Shirley received $3,800 for three unserialized rifles and a silencer and then $11,000 for another four rifles and four silencers.

As per the agent’s testimony, Shirley used a 3D printer to make parts and a drill press to assemble the firearms. He further indicated that “he was looking for a place to test some of his projects, including Glock switches and 3D printed upper receivers.”

During the first week of February, authorities raided Shirley’s home. They seized firearms, ammunition, and weapon components, including parts designed to convert a weapon into a machinegun, and manufacturing and welding equipment, such as 3D printers and 3D printing materials.

Shirley made an initial appearance on February 2, 2023, in the US District Court in Jacksonville, before Magistrate Judge Laura Lothman Lambert and is now facing federal charges for manufacturing and possessing weapons that were not registered with the National Firearm Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR). Shirley, who was already serving a 10-year state probation for selling drugs, could now face up to 40 years in prison and $1 million in fines, according to reporters from local television station News4Jacks. After pleading not-guilty last week, Shirley was indicted, and a trial will be scheduled for April.

Chasing the Gun and the Printer

Although it is legal to make a gun, it is illegal to sell an unserialized weapon. However, a new federal “Frame or Receiver” rule by the ATF went into effect last August, ensuring that all firearms made by federally licensed firearms dealers and gunsmiths, including 3D printed guns, must be serialized to help reduce the number of unmarked and hard-to-trace ghost guns. In addition, the new rule reclasified gun frames and receivers as firearms under the law. It now requires federally licensed firearms dealers and gunsmiths to have serial numbers added to any unserialized guns and to run background checks before selling kits that contain parts needed to assemble homemade firearms.

In the last few years, an upsurge in the number of 3D printed guns or gun parts has raised concerns that these weapons could live up to their prematurely violent reputation. Regardless of whether they are able to realize those dangers, authorities have began acting as if that is the case. Recently, 3DPrint.com research showed 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.

A 3D printed gun showcased at The International Conference on 3D Printed Firearms, organised by Europol. A 3D printed gun showcased at The International Conference on 3D Printed Firearms. Image courtesy of Europol.

Another investigation into 3D printed firearms presented during the International Conference on 3D Printed Firearms held at the Hague last May revealed that Dutch police have seen a significant increase in 3D printed weapons in the Netherlands and abroad. However, even though they see an upsurge in 3D printed gun confiscations, their study results still show that the supply of ready-to-use 3D printed firearms is small compared to conventional guns.

3D printed firearms have historically played a limited role in actual criminal violence. However, potential criminals and extremist groups have shown plenty of interest in them. For example, several violent gang members have been arrested after attempting to print guns and parts or sell them. One of the major concerns is that 3D printed guns are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and can now fire dozens of rounds without yielding under the pressure of a shot, as some of the first versions did.

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