3D printing: a means of illicit firearms proliferation?

11 February 2020

Manufacturing processes consisting in adding layers of material, widely referred to as ‘3D printing’, have been used in many industrial sectors for decades. With the development of printing material aimed at facilitating ‘individual’ production among laymen came some concern about a possible 3D printed proliferation of firearms. In the wake of the much publicized manufacture of a plastic-made, 3D printed gun by a young American hobbyist in 2013, EU law enforcement agencies began watching over the phenomenon so as to assess its potential. Although it poses risks to marking and identification, illicit 3D manufacturing of firearms has failed to entrench itself as a significant source of supply for criminal end-users. 3D printed prototypes suffer such key shortfalls as lack of reliability, underperforming characteristics incompatible with criminal requirements while they have to compete with other illicit sources of supply. However, it remains crucial to keep following with technical, technological and economic developments of 3D printing in order to best anticipate any game-changer in the illicit proliferation picture.

Photo credit: The 3D-printed "Liberator" gun designed by Defense Distributed (source : theverge.com)