In this series we will be exploring the potential dark side of 3D printing technology. Like all technology, from the internet to credit card fraud, 3D printing technology can be used for bad ends. 3D printed gun manufacture is one of the dark sides to this impressive technology; read on for our analysis below.
Manufactured guns: already an issue in the UK?
The possibility of being able to print a useable firearm brings with it many issues; a variety of criminals could use 3D printed firearms to help fuel their own operations, or to commit violence against other people.
However, even without the use of 3D printing technology criminals still manufacture their own firearms. Although the UK has strict gun laws, some criminals still craft and use their own manufactured guns.
Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and killed with a manufactured gun. Jo’s murderer, Thomas Mair, was a supporter of the National Alliance - a far-right group with its roots in the USA. Records obtained by the SPLC found that Mair ordered the “Improvised Munitions Handbook” from the extremist group and used the material to make his own gun, which he subsequently used to murder Jo with.
The case of Jo Cox highlights that criminals will always have the means needed to construct and use their own weapons if they have the will to; but 3D printing technology may undoubtedly provide criminals with far easier access to efficient guns, if easy access to the technology is obtained by the public.
3D printing technology: providing easy access to firearms?
There are already a number of guides online that provide advice on how to construct a makeshift gun using 3D printing technology; the guides appear to provide tips on how to print a gun which is fully-functioning and complex, akin to designs currently on the market.
Many argue that 3D printing technology will result in many criminals gaining easy access to guns and that gun violence will become a widespread issue around the world.
On the other side of the debate, 3D Print asks how feasible is it to print off a fully-functioning gun? Below, they explain why this may be trickier than it first appears:
“Because an FDM 3D printer is working with liquefied plastic, there are limits to what type of objects can actually be printed. For one, a 3D printer cannot create a complex mechanism like a functional gun all in one piece. Instead, each separate component of the gun needs to be 3D printed individually and then later assembled. Additionally, if the shape of any of these individual components has an overhang of more than about 45 degrees, then in order for the part to be 3D printable it needs to include some kind of support structures that will then need to be removed. Even then, the geometries of some parts will simply be too complex to 3D print using an FDM 3D printer. These limitations make 3D printing a functional gun very time consuming and difficult, and there is a reason that there has really only been a few truly viable fully-3D printable gun designs.”
Potential dangers of 3D printing
The above exploration on the difficulty of producing a fully-functioning gun highlights that the fears about 3D printed guns may be slightly overblown. The implications of 3D-printed weapon production are not easily foreseeable, but it may be important to ensure that the technology is well-regulated in the future.