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Botched raid shows difficulty of policing 3-D-printed weapons

How do you enforce gun control when you can potentially print 3-D weapons at home?


Aja Romano

Internet Culture

Posted on Oct 26, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 3:18 am CDT

How do you enforce gun control when you can potentially print 3-D weapons at home?

That’s the issue facing authorities since Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed released specs for a 3-D-printed gun called “the Liberator.” Politicians have attempted to ban 3-D-printed firearms, and now it appears we may have our first inevitable 3-D weapons raid.

Perhaps also inevitably, it could also be the first 3-D-printed weapons raid to erroneously seize random machine parts that have nothing to do with guns.

The Manchester Police reported Friday that it had seized a 3-D printer in a gang-related investigation, along with what authorities believed to be a plastic gun magazine and trigger, as well as other parts.

Authorities couldn’t immediately identify the purpose of the parts, which looked less like automatic weapons and more like malformed ice sculptures. While forensics worked on determining whether they’d actually nabbed a firable weapon, the suspect insisted to the BBC that the seized parts were just machine pieces. An alleged plastic gun magazine was, he said, just a “spool holder” for the printer itself.

“It is prudent we establish exactly what these parts can be used for and whether they pose any threat,” Manchester Assistant Chief Steve Heywood told the BBC.

“These could be the next generation of firearms and a lot more work needs to be done to understand the technology and the scale of the problem,” added Detective Chris Mossup.

In the meantime, however, police released the suspect on bail. The BBC speculated the printer was a “hobbyist’s machine,” too unsophisticated to do much more than make vaguely gun-shaped things that look as though they’ve been coated in bubble wrap. But with the advent of 3-D printing technology producing new manufacturing methods for everything from bongs to bikes, it never hurts to be too cautious.

While the suspect himself was not known to have any connection with gangs, Betabeat noted that the department responsible for the raid was originally reported to be the gang ‘dismantling’ division of the Manchester police.

Photo via sightrays/Flickr

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*First Published: Oct 26, 2013, 4:05 pm CDT