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3D printer ‘gun parts’ under question

31st Oct 2013

A 3D printer and suspected “homemade” gun components are under examination after being seized during police raids in Manchester.  Abbey Solicitors is currently involved in the case.

Initially officers thought that the seized items could be “a plastic magazine and trigger” which could form part of a fully-functioning gun.

However, a man arrested in connection with the raid said the parts were merely sections of the 3D printer.  The man, who has since been bailed, said: “It’s nothing to do with a gun whatsoever.

“I have no idea why they think it is part of a gun.  It’s designed by the company that makes the printer to go in the printer to make it better.”  He later added that the suspected magazine of a gun is actually a “spool holder” for the 3D printer.

Greater Manchester Police is now claiming that it “cannot categorically say” whether the objects are indeed the component parts for a working gun.

3D printing technology works by building up layer upon layer of material, usually plastic, to create complex solid objects.

Earlier, a force spokesman said that if the tests showed the parts could be made into a functioning weapon it would be the “first ever seizure of this kind in the UK”.

But experts have questioned whether the 3D printer was sophisticated enough to produce gun components.

Brian Derby, professor of material science at the University of Manchester, commented that the seized printer appeared to be only a hobbyist’s machine.  “It would make something that would look like a gun but it would not work as a gun,” he said.

The head of the UK 3D printing firm Revolv3D, Scott Crawford, added: “I suspect the police have gone into this place for all the air rifles and everything else they found in there, they’ve seen the printer and they’ve jumped to a conclusion that this has actually been used to print guns.

“But none of the parts they’ve shown indicate that to me.  Those are both very common printer parts that anyone who owns a 3D printer will print at some stage.”

Greater Manchester Police issued a statement in light of the comments.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood said: “We need to be absolutely clear that at this stage, we cannot categorically say we have recovered the component parts for a 3D gun.

“What we have seized are items that need further forensic testing by national ballistics experts to establish whether they can be used in the construction of a genuine, viable firearm.”

He added: “Clearly the fact we have seized a 3D printer and have intelligence about the possible production of a weapon using this technology is of concern.  It is prudent we establish exactly what these parts can be used for and whether they pose any threat.

“What this has also done is open up a wider debate about the emerging threat these next generation of weapons might pose.”

On the High Street desktop 3D printers can be bought for less than £1,000, although prices for more complex models can reach as high as £10,000.

The world’s first gun made from a 3D printer was successful fired in the US earlier this year by group Defense Distributed, who planned to distribute the blueprints for the gun online.  Law enforcement around the world has since been concerned that people could begin printing firearms in their own home.

The equipment under question was seized in Baguely during a series of raids targeting organised crime.  These raids came just two weeks after the newly-established National Crime Agency warned that measures would be taken to monitor the potential criminal use of 3D printers.

One man was arrested during the operation on suspicion of making gunpowder, but has since been released on bail.  Abbey Solicitors continues to work on the case.