3D printed weapons in UK becoming an issue ‘faster than expected’

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Firearm components recovered in a Metropolitan Police raid this week represent a known issue, one expert said, which is becoming problematic. On Wednesday, October 12, officers seized components from a makeshift firearms factory in North London made using a 3D printer, with pictures showing grey plastic parts. The Met said the seizure was “one of the largest” ever conducted in the UK, and it marks a growing problem in the UK.

Met Commander Paul Brogden said the components “could be used to create weapons”, and investigators believed the firearms “were being manufactured to sell”.

He added that the issue of 3D-printed weapons is an “emerging threat” that “continues to evolve”.

While the country has strict rules on owning firearms, such as highly stringent police-led background checks, 3D-printed parts are becoming more commonplace.

Researchers are finding a booming gun manufacture industry, with a growing presence across Europe and the US, where manufacturing these parts is still legal.

And the weapons they produce are becoming increasingly more complex.

Peter Squires, a Professor of Criminology and Public Policy at the University of Brighton, is among experts tracking 3D components across several continents.

In 2020, Professor Squires and other experts concluded that while there was little evidence of 3D-printed weapons development in Europe, the issue was “likely to grow in significance/threat”.

Speaking to, he said the issue has moved much faster since then, primarily due to developments in the US.

He said: “Things have moved quite fast with the growing ‘ghost gun’ issue in the USA.”

“Many of the firearm components there are thought to be 3D-printed, not so much the firing mechanism and barrel, but other parts, sound supressors, stocks, lower receiver, magazines etc.”

Ghost guns are produced by private manufacturers, allowing them to circumvent corporate and Government manufacturing requirements in the US.

They come without serial numbers and can be purchased by people who haven’t obtained a firearm licence.

Sellers are also not compelled to conduct federal background checks on would-be buyers.

Professor Squires said the Met’s recent seizures suggest the UK and European authorities are grappling with the issue “a little faster than anticipated”.

He said: “The items referenced by the police…do seem to show this is becoming an issue, and perhaps a little faster than anticipated in the UK and Europe – it is not too surprising.”

He added: “I’d certainly anticipate more of this, the technology is out there (but expensive, especially if metal components are being printed) and the software and designs are available on the web.”

The Met’s seizure also marks a slight departure from the norm in Europe, Professor Squires suspected.

Whole most printing outfits focus on delivering parts for smaller handguns the North London factory appears to have made parts from a more deadly weapon.

He said: “I had heard that police across Europe had been intercepting component parts for Glock pistols over the last couple of years, the parts may or may not have been 3D printed, but they were not made by Glock.

“However, the items pictured do not look like Glock parts, more like semi-automatic rifle components.”

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