Daring AM: The Global Crackdown on 3D Printed Firearms Continues

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In the last few years, a surge in police raids uncovering 3D printed guns has led to concerns about their growing association with criminal gangs. Although typically seen as inferior to traditionally manufactured weapons, advances in technology and the production of 3D printed firearms have introduced a complex challenge for law enforcement everywhere. What in many countries began as a broad debate on innovation and gun control has now narrowed, with this issue becoming (apparently) restricted to criminals.

Recent news highlights the growing concern from law enforcement regarding 3D printed guns. Officials are ramping up operations to seize these weapons and dismantle their production networks. In Evansville, Indiana, a significant haul of 3D printed firearm parts and ghost guns was seized. Similarly, an alleged operation in Prince George, Canada, led to the arrest and charging of individuals involved in the manufacture of 3D printed weapons. Also, in Canada, police discovered a 3D printed gun hidden inside a chip bag during a traffic stop in British Columbia. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a court agreed with Philadelphia’s decision to ban parts for 3D printed guns.

Crackdowns and Arrests

In Evansville, Indiana, a police raid on two homes and a U-Haul truck led to the arrest of two men, Antonio Carey and Marquel Payne, after officers found drugs, ammunition, and dozens of 3D printed gun parts. Initiated by an investigation into illegal machine gun conversion devices, the operation uncovered a ghost gun, an AR-15 rifle, meth, marijuana, a 3D printer, and nearly 90 conversion devices. Payne admitted to using the 3D printer to make these parts, while Carey claimed the drugs and the rifle were his, saying he sold meth for money. Both men are now facing charges.

This latest raid in Evansville is not an isolated incident. Back in May 2022, a 25-year-old man was sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison for several charges, including the illegal possession of four unregistered, 3D printed smooth-bore pistols. The police’s search of the man’s home revealed he had “schematics for the 3D printed ghost guns.”

Investigators seized 3D printer and 3D printed gun parts. Image courtesy of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia.

In Prince George, British Columbia, a police raid in January 2024 disrupted an alleged 3D printed gun-making operation and led to the arrest of one man. The raid, carried out by British Columbia’s provincial gang unit, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC), uncovered a 3D printer, a loaded and fully assembled 3D printed firearm with an auto sear, numerous 3D printed frames, slides, and magazines, as well as a rifle with its serial number removed, and various illegal gun parts including silencers and extended magazines.

“The collaborative work by CFSEU-BC and partner agencies is key when developing strategies to mitigate criminal activity associated with organized crime,” said Sergeant Brenda Winpenny, Media Relations Officer for CFSEU-BC. “3D printers, when used for a nefarious purpose, puts public safety at risk. CFSEU-BC, along with our partners, utilize all enforcement and investigative strategies that speak to the overall effort to ensure public safety.”

Investigators seized 3D printer and 3D printed gun parts. Image courtesy of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia.

Also in British Columbia, Mission Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers discovered a loaded 3D printed handgun partially showing from an open bag of ketchup chips during a routine traffic stop. According to a news release, police stopped a vehicle with four people after it failed to halt at a stop sign. In addition to the firearm, police also seized a canister of bear spray and a machete found inside the vehicle.

“Please remember that no matter the time of day or night, the type of vehicle, or the reason for the traffic stop, our officers don’t know what or who they might be dealing with when they first walk up to your window. It’s traffic stops like the one described here that means we have to be extra cautious when approaching any vehicle, as we never know when a loaded gun might be sitting next to someone in the car or how determined someone is not to get arrested,” said Cpl. Harrison Mohr of the Mission RCMP.

Mission RCMP seized a loaded 3D printed handgun during a traffic stop concealed in a bag of chips. Image courtesy of Mission RCMP.

Australia’s Response to 3D Printed Firearms

Australian law enforcement is intensifying its crackdown on the 3D printed guns. Recent operations include a December 2023 raid in Coogee, where detectives found items related to 3D printed firearm components, including a partially completed firearm, firearm parts, and a 3D printer. Detectives from Australia’s Western Police Force’s Drug and Firearm Squad said the firearm parts seized were of such a quality that it is believed the final product would have been a functional firearm. The events led to the arrest of a 53-year-old man, who is now facing charges.

Then, in February 2024, a routine vehicle stop in Glen Iris led to the discovery of a loaded 3D printed handgun, with both occupants charged. Acting Detective Inspector Blair Smith from the Serious and Organised Crime Division said in addition to the severe criminal penalties that a court may impose on a convicted illicit firearm manufacturer, there are other consequences to consider.

3D printed ghost guns are being seized in Australia. Image courtesy of the Western Australia Police Force.

“Serious criminal convictions may not only lead to a term of imprisonment but can have a long-lasting impact on your life. It simply isn’t worth the risk. Being convicted of offenses associated with the manufacture and possession of illicit firearms or firearm components can impact your employment and ability to travel overseas,” explained Smith. “There are amnesty provisions for anyone who proactively contacts police to explain their situation and arranges for the safe destruction of the firearm parts they have manufactured. Anyone in such a situation is encouraged to contact their local police station as soon as possible. Once you have police officers knocking on your door, it is too late to make the call.”

Philadelphia’s Legal Stand Against Ghost Guns

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has upheld Philadelphia’s ban on the manufacturing and assembling 3D printed gun parts to create ghost guns. In a close 4-3 vote, the court declared that the city’s ordinance, updated in January 2021, aligns with the state constitution’s protections for gun ownership. This ruling made it clear that, despite a 1996 decision saying state lawmakers are the ones to handle firearm laws, local places like Philadelphia can still make their own rules about 3D printed guns.

Although Pennsylvania is not one of the states to have introduced state legislation on ghost guns, Philadelphia has taken a significant and independent step in regulating 3D printed firearms. The city’s council unanimously voted to ban 3D printing guns, making it the first U.S. city to outlaw this method of gun production. In addition, an ordinance passed in October 2020 restricts not only the production but also the possession of 3D printed guns and firearm-finishing devices.

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