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UK police seize 3D printer and printed “gun” components (that aren’t really)

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Correction: As commenter “Nuno Gato” has noted below, the printed parts seized by the police appear to be spare parts for 3D printers. The story was amended at 2am PT to reflect that, and again at 4.30am to reflect Greater Manchester Police’s second statement.

Police in the UK city of Manchester have seized a 3D printer and what they have alleged to be 3D-printed gun parts, during a raid on alleged criminal gangs. However, as an eagle-eyed reader has noted, the parts shown off by police are actually spare parts for a 3D printer.

The first mostly-viable printed gun appeared in the U.S. earlier this year, courtesy of a libertarian outfit called Defense Distributed. The U.S. State Department got Defense Distributed to take its designs offline, but not before they had been disseminated across the globe, because internet. Police agencies in Germany and Australia have been testing the concept to see how viable such weapons are – early indications suggest the user is as likely to maim or kill himself as he is his target.

The UK has banned private handgun ownership since the 1996 Dunblane school massacre, so the approach there seems to be more crackdown than curiosity. Greater Manchester Police said on Friday that, the previous day, they had carried out a series of raids in the city. One of those operations turned up a 3D printer that they reckon cost around £1,200 ($1,950), together with what they said they suspected to be a “3D plastic magazine” and a “trigger.”

The magazine seems to be part of a filament spool holder and the trigger part of a drive block:

GMP gun part error

The police said they are now examining the components to see if they can really be put together to make a “genuine device”, and someone has also been arrested on suspicion of making gunpowder. In case you’re wondering, the street price of a real gun in Manchester is around £100.

According to a statement by Detective Inspector Chris Mossop:

“If what we have seized is proven to be viable components capable of constructing a genuine firearm, then it demonstrates that organised crime groups are acquiring technology that can be bought on the high street to produce the next generation of weapons.

“In theory, the technology essentially allows offenders to produce their own guns in the privacy of their own home, which they can then supply to the criminal gangs who are causing such misery in our communities. Because they are also plastic and can avoid X-ray detection, it makes them easy to conceal and smuggle.

“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.”

A second statement, released after it became clear the parts weren’t for guns, took the affair firmly into the realm of farce. After initially stressing that the Greater Manchester Police could not categorically say these were gun parts (the first statement was entitled “Component parts for UK’s first 3D gun seized”), Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood continued:

“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 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.

“The worrying thing is for me is that these printers can be used to make certain components of guns, while others can be legitimately ordered over the Internet without arousing suspicion. When put together, this could allow a person to construct a firearm in their own home.”

There are many ways for a technology such as 3D printing to bleed into the public consciousness. The appearance of groundbreaking products and services in local chain stores, for example, will help inform people of the manufacturing technique’s potential. Seizures of this sort (though perhaps not this particular one) serve a similar purpose, though, and are quite likely to shape upcoming regulation around the technology.

Ultimately, we’re talking about the same equipment being used for drastically different things — and don’t forget 3D printing is a market that companies like HP(s hpq) are eyeing hungrily. Let’s see whether policymakers focus on the positive or negative potential first.

15 Responses to “UK police seize 3D printer and printed “gun” components (that aren’t really)”

  1. And here I thought we were a civilized society, if we’re so civilized why do we even need guns, it is a little convenient that just as 3d printers start to make the mainstream, someone goes and does something to create mass hysteria against them, now “criminals” have been “caught red handed” making guns (not), so what happens if 3d printers keep growing in population?, will they “discover” a kid trying to smuggle a “3d printed gun” ( tho it would most likely be parts for a harmless kids toy) into a school, how come the media never talks to the true maker community to find out how we feel about this whole “3d printed gun” ordeal, then they would see just how disgusted about it.

  2. Jim Netherland

    So, a hobbyist get punished for what a group of idiots think instead of what is fact.

    Reminds me of when the song ‘Mellow Yellow’ came out in the 70s and the police staked out grocery stores, arresting little old ladies for buying bunches of bananas that were destined for banana pies or fruit salads. The police were sure that bananas were to be used in getting ‘high’…..

    The police will probably want all 3D printers to be registered with the government, all printing designs to be government approved, that the government be notified any time that a 3D printer is to be used and a government wonk be sent to the printer’s location to authorize and verify what is being printed plus pick up a cash fee for the printer’s use……

  3. There are three groups of people who know less about guns than the average person: (1) Members of the press; (2) Members of anti-gun groups; and (3) Members of a police force.

    This is proof of that.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see any way you could look at the object in the picture and conclude it was a part to a gun.

  4. Pluribus Unicorn

    The police’s claim that this helped to “open up a wider debate” translates to “no part of our original assertions can be salvaged into a defensible argument, so instead we’re trying to take some credit for the arguments of those who have exposed us as idiots.”

  5. Wolf Baginski

    The supposed trigger is not a daft mistake. The magazine looks like a deliberate lie.

    And has nobody heard of a “zip gun”

    If somebody said, “This looks like a trigger,” I would not argue. But the person arrested is starting to look more like a geekish fool than a criminal mastermind. I used to know somebody who made his own steam engines. The cylinder of a steam engine is more like a gun than anything here. The machinery for one could make the other, and did.

    • Strange story. They were using parts from a printer, and the police thought they were making guns? The person was pretending to make guns? I really believe in the future of 3-D printing, but this story is just silly.

  6. nuno gato

    If the police thinks that the part on the photo is a trigger just search mk8 on and you will see that it’s a upgrade part for a printer. I really dont get this media/police fascination relating 3d printers with guns… it’s a tool to make 3d parts, not guns. If I have a milling machine maybe will be related also with making guns as with that one I can make real metal guns instead of plastig guns that are not usefull and van explode in the hands of who will use it.

    • You are quite right about the media fascination. Give me the right tools and I can make a plastic gun without a 3d printer….this is what some are afraid of an undetectable weapon at the airports and that’s fair but trying to blame 3d printing for all the wrongs of the world is just a little bit misguided IMHO