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Daring AM: From 3D Printed Gun Files to Criminal Backstreets

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3D printed guns are a growing trend that won’t go away, making their way into headlines with increasing frequency. While the number of 3D printed firearms isn’t nearly as high as traditional ghost guns, law enforcement agencies are encountering these weapons more often during raids and seizures. Though not a common topic among the general public, within the black market, the hum of 3D printers is becoming a familiar sound.

Weapons and parts recovered from Guerrero’s Apartment. Image courtesy of New York District Attorney Bragg.

Cayman Islands Is Tightening the Noose

The Cayman Islands has recently made significant changes to its firearms legislation to combat the rise of 3D printed guns. On May 28, 2024, the local government introduced an extensive amendment bill to replace its Firearms Law, aiming to tackle the challenges posed by modern technology.

Expected to pass in June 2024, the new legislation prohibits possessing, manufacturing, and importing 3D printed guns and parts. According to the “objects and reasons” for the bill, it will provide a new definition of “firearm” to cover privately made 3D and kit guns as well as accessories and all prohibited firearm parts. The law will prohibit gun owners from securing a license for any 3D printed weapons or parts.

Replacing the current act passed 16 years ago, the amendment bill also empowers the police commissioner to collect ballistic signatures and other gun-related forensics. The bill also raises the mandatory minimum sentence for gun possession to ten years for a guilty plea and 15 years for those convicted after trial.

This move comes in response to the growing illegal gun possession on the islands, with Police Commissioner Kurt Walton highlighting the “insatiable appetite for guns” among some young men. With crime on the rise and a string of unsolved armed robberies and shootings in recent years, local legislators believe the amended law will tighten up loopholes.

More 3D Printed Gun Arrests Across the U.S.

Several recent cases in the United States demonstrate the proliferation of 3D-printed firearms and the challenges law enforcement faces. In Houma, Louisiana, a routine traffic incident escalated dramatically when 31-year-old Devan John Dasch threatened another driver with a firearm last May. The investigation that followed revealed Dasch had multiple 3D printed firearms and related equipment in his car and residence, leading to charges of aggravated assault and illegal firearm possession. During the search, officials found at least two operable 3D printed firearms, several 3D printed firearm parts, equipment used to 3D print firearms, and boxes of 3D printing filament.

Police found 3D-printed firearms in May 2024. Image courtesy of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office.

A few days later, on June 1, 2024, officers in Santa Rosa, California, uncovered a full-scale firearm 3D printing operation while investigating identity theft. During the bust, detectives uncovered four unserialized 3D printed lower handgun receivers, milled and ready to assemble, and a 3D printer. Garrett Robinson was arrested for possessing and manufacturing unserialized firearms alongside methamphetamine, pointing to the double threat of drugs and untraceable weapons.

Detectives found 3D printed firearm parts. Image courtesy of Santa Rosa Police.

Meanwhile, in Harlem, New York, 29-year-old Roberto Guerrero was indicted for creating ghost guns, including 3D printed assault weapons. Guerrero’s test-firing of these weapons in Central Park was a threat to the public, leading to charges from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban. This indictment is part of Bragg’s broader effort to combat the rise of ghost guns in New York City, which has included other notable cases, such as the seizure of over 134 ghost gun parts and 92 firearms in several investigations.

Weapons and parts recovered from Guerrero’s Apartment. Image courtesy of New York District Attorney Bragg.

Baltimore, Maryland, saw a similarly alarming case when a SWAT team raided Kevin Wallace’s home. Wallace, 40, had decorated his Christmas tree with unfinished handguns, a “chilling” display of his 3D printing activities. He pleaded guilty to prohibited possession of ammunition, with federal prosecutors seeking a two-year prison sentence.

SWAT team found a Christmas tree with unfinished handguns hung as ornaments. Image courtesy of the Baltimore Police.

In Bellingham, Washington, a traffic stop on May 21, 2024, led deputies to uncover fentanyl and evidence of gun 3D printing at Austin Grimme’s residence. Grimme, 34, who has prior felony convictions, now faces multiple charges, including drug and firearm possession.

Lastly, in Wayne County, New York, three 18-year-olds were arrested for manufacturing and possessing ghost guns. Investigators found multiple 3D printed gun parts and a printer at their homes, which, much like in other parts of the country and the world, shows a hyperactive trend of untraceable firearms among the youth.

Police seized multiple guns, gun parts, and a 3D printer in Wayne County. Image courtesy of New York State Police.

As expected, the rise of 3D printed guns is permeating levels of criminal activity. While new legislation aims to address this issue, it may not be enough on its own. Successful examples in recent history have proven that the effective deterrence of criminal activity often requires a multi-disciplinary approach, like the strategies employed in Scotland to reduce knife crimes and in Australia to curb gun violence. These approaches integrate legislative, community, and law enforcement efforts to create comprehensive solutions. Whether such measures will be adopted more widely remains to be seen, but a singular legislative response might not be enough.

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