Will Barber Taylor discusses how 3-D printers can be used to make weapons, and the urgent need to update legislation to recognise this threat.
Firearms are one of the deadliest scourges to our society. Whilst, due to policies implemented by both Labour and Conservative governments Britain has seen few mass shootings, the most recent being the 2010 Cumbrian Shootings, this has not always been the case though. Prior to the 1996 Dunblane mass shooting, not only were handguns readily available but had been used in previous mass shootings, namely the 1987 Hungerford massacre. The horrific acts that occurred in Hungerford and Dunblane shaped policy and ensured that, whilst the United States has continued to see a rise in mass shootings in the past twenty years, Britain has not.
Yet the threat of a resurgence of gun violence is a disturbing possibility given the effectiveness of 3D Printers. Whilst in recent years the usefulness of 3D Printers has been demonstrated beyond doubt, with them becoming vital in the production of PPE during the current coronavirus pandemic, there is also a real threat of their use for malignant purposes; 3D Printers can be used to produce working firearms. The process is simple and only requires slight modification to any 3D Printer.
The produced firearm, usually handguns as they are easier to make, are untraceable as they have no identifying serial number. Not only does this makes the process illegal, it also makes it attractive to domestic terrorists and organised criminals. Indeed, across the world gangs are already making 3D weapons – in 2013, a printed gun was seized on a raid of a Manchester based drugs gang and since then the spread of 3D printed guns has grown and grown. Not only have more people been arrested for producing 3D guns in the past two years, in nations as diverse as the UK, Australia and Japan but only last year tragically the effectiveness of 3D guns was demonstrated in Germany.
On the 9th of October 2019, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a far-right terrorist attacked a synagogue in the city of Halle which he failed to enter due to the security precautions in place. After being prevented entry, he attacked a nearby Turkish kebab shop. The gun man shot five individuals, including himself by accident. Tragically, two people lost their lives due to his horrific actions. The weapon used in this attack was a 3D printed gun that the terrorist had created from 3D parts and other DIY constructed parts.
The tragedy at Halle is not just a demonstration of rising intolerance and racism across Europe and the world but proof that 3D guns can be used in perpetrating acts of terror. That the gun man’s weapon in the case of Halle jammed several times and failed to work should not allow us to forget two people lost their lives that night. The risk of 3D guns becoming more prevalent in the future is high and steps can and must be taken to halt this now.
Labour has been responsible for three crucial pieces of legislations in the fight to tackle the mis use of firearms – the 1968 Firearms Act, The Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 and the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. These acts helped to stamp out the proliferation of firearms and ensure tough sentencing for those who attempted to utilise them illegally. 3D printed weapons must be treated in the same way and through dedicated legislation. The current government, though aware of the problem for at least seven years, has failed to make any discernible effort to tackle the problem.
The key to halting the production of 3D printed guns lies with the manufacturers. Whilst it would be better to prevent the spreading of blueprints for how to manufacture 3D guns, this is largely a lost cause. Had American authorities moved more quickly when the first group to disseminate information had started to share their files in 2012, things might be different now. 3D printers need to be adapted to produce guns so making manufacturers ensure that any domestically built 3D printers cannot be easily adapted and adhere to that should be the first step towards removing the threat of 3D produced guns. However, given that most 3D printers are produced by American companies either in the US or in factories elsewhere, this would need international cooperation. Another potential solution could be to install an internal sensor block on producing either gun shaped items or components for guns. This may however increase the cost of production.
To live in a safer world, we must not just recognise immediate threats but also those that are only just beginning to surface. 3D guns are such a threat and Labour must be on the frontline, ready to provide a solution to this insidious danger.
Will Barber Taylor is a member of the Labour Party and a writer who is currently reading History at the University of Warwick.
He tweets at @WBarberTaylor