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    3D Printed Guns: 2022 Outlook in the US

    3D printed guns: 2022
    Components of a printed FGC-9. The prototype also contains some non-printed parts. Photo by JShark 1809 via Wikimedia Commons.

    Summary

    3D printed guns and parts result from 3D technology applied to firearms manufacturing. In 2022, 3D printed guns are likely to increase and to become viral. Since Wilson’s “The Liberator” published prototype of a handgun in 2012, the designs of 3D weapons have enhanced in their complexity and performance (i.e., AK-15, FGC-9). (Source) The rise of 3D printed weapons has gradually shaped several criminal, legal, and economic controversies. (Source)

    3D printers per se do not represent a danger to public security. However, implementing this technology for the manufacturing of firearms will create criminal networks of printed firearms. Nonetheless, in 2022, 3D printed guns will not be either a new national or imminent transnational threat to security.

    Key Judgement 1

    It is likely that in 2022 3D printed guns and parts will promote the development of a new illegal firearms market .

    • Due to the untraceable nature of 3D printed guns, the easy access to CAD (Computer-Aided Design) files on the web, and at home-manufacturing processes of assemblage, it is likely that new illegal firearm markets will arise alongside traditional illicit firearms trafficking. (Source)

    • Compared to traditional non-printed guns, 3D printed firearms are produced from polymer and other materials such as PLA and ABS plastic. (Source) (Source) Therefore, cheaper and more affordable to produce and sell into dark markets (i.e., FGC-9 costs of production are less than $400).

    • The untraceable nature of 3DP firearms will facilitate illicit trafficking of these weapons outside of governments’ radars, due to the lack of serial numbers and the anonymity of both producer and buyer. (Source)

    • Possible regulations of 3D printers can disrupt the rise of these new illicit markets. These regulations can require registration or encoding traceable tags in 3D printed guns.

    3D printed guns: 2022
    3D printer by Rob Wingate via Wikimedia Commons

    Key Judgement 2

    In 2022, 3D printed guns and parts are unlikely to produce new serious threats to national or transnational security

    • It is unlikely that these devices will generate new threats to public security, due to the questionable capabilities of printed firearms in the long and short term. Instead, 3D printed firearms can contribute to the increase of existing threats ,linked to the trafficking of traditional non-printed guns. (Source)

    • Traditional firearms have a lifespan of 30,000-100,000 rounds depending on the type of pistols or rifles. (Source) Differently, 3D printed guns have a short-term efficacy and employability as they can easily break or malfunction. Therefore, they can rarely represent the first choice of criminal networks or terrorist cells.

    • Homemaking of 3D printed guns increases the percentage of safety risks. (Source) Mistakes can occur in printing and assembling processes, endangering the user in case of explosion or malfunction.

    3D printer guns: 2022
    Malfunction of a 3D printed gun. Photo by Ihsan Bölük via PxHere.

    Key Judgement 3

    It is unlikely that in 2022 3D printers will be regulated to avoid the mass production of 3D printed operational weapons

    • US gunsmithing laws allow people to assemble personal firearms and possess online or instructions on how to manufacture a gun. (Source) Therefore, the implementation of new regulations on 3D printers is unlikely.

    • Banning the circulation of CAD files on the web will simultaneously violate the First and the Second Amendments to the US Constitution. (Source) The ban will violate the right of freedom of speech and the right of bearing firearms.

    • Singapore and Australia passed laws against the possession of 3D printed guns blueprints or CAD. (Source) Nonetheless, it is unlikely to happen in the US due to several gaps in federal firearms laws. (Source)

    Bianca Bonardi
    Bianca Bonardi
    Bianca is a graduate student in Criminology at Goldsmiths College of London. She recently finished her post-graduate studies in Terrorism and Security at King's College of London. Her research is mainly focused on Middle East issues and International Terrorist threats.

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