Printing insecurity: Tackling the threat of 3D printed guns in Europe

(Source: Europol)

Law enforcement professionals, ballistic experts, forensic scientists, policy makers and academia have gathered this week in The Hague, the Netherlands, for one of the world’s biggest platforms of exchange on the threat of 3D printed weapons.

The International Conference on 3D Printed Firearms, organised by Europol and the Dutch National Police (Politie) in the framework of EMPACT Firearms and hosted at the University of Leiden, saw some 120 participants from 20 countries address the latest challenges facing law enforcement in their efforts to tackle this threat.

Over the course of two days (24-25 May 2022), the participants explored the fundamental processes required for developing joint intervention strategies in this field, including tactical and forensic research, software, scientific developments and legislation.

Opening the conference, Chief Constable Gerda van Leeuwen at the Dutch National Police (Politie), said:

The development of 3D printing of firearms is a current and future threat. International cooperation therefore is crucial to be able to counter. This conference will focus not only on current state of play, but also on building a strong network of specialists on this topic, creating intervention techniques and sharing best practices.

The team leader of Europol’s Analysis Project Weapons and Explosives, Martin van der Meij, added:

The threat posed by 3D printed weapons is very much on the radar of Europol, amid the growing number of such firearms being seized in investigations across Europe in recent years. Such a challenge can only be addressed by combining the expertise, resources and insights of law enforcement, the private sector and academia to get such guns off the streets.

3D printed weapons are no longer a matter of fiction

Back in 2019, two people were shot dead in Halle, Germany, by a perpetrator using a homemade weapon, based on a blueprint downloaded from the internet to partly manufacture the weapon with a 3D printer.

In April 2021, the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) raided and dismantled an illegal workshop in the Canary Islands which was producing 3D printed weapons. Two 3D printers were seized, alongside gun parts, a replica assault rifle and several manuals on urban guerrilla warfare and white supremacist literature. The owner of the workshop was arrested and charged with illegal possession of weapons.

A month later, two men and one woman were arrested in the town of Keighley in the United Kingdom as part of an investigation into right-wing terrorism. All three were charged with possessing components of 3D printed weapons.

Conclusions of the conference

•    Connection and cooperation between law enforcement and the industry/private sector is needed to identify and monitor the developments around 3D printed firearms;
•    An international network of experts on 3D printed firearms will be created, tasked with keeping law enforcement agencies abreast of developments in 3D printed firearms;
•    The main policy recommendations of participants and other developments around 3D printed firearms will be put into a factsheet, which will be distributed to partners and policymakers worldwide.

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