Addressing the Threat of 3D Printed Firearms

Law enforcement professionals, ballistic experts, forensic scientists, policymakers and academia came together a few weeks ago in The Hague, the Netherlands, for one of the world’s largest meetings on the threat of 3D printed weapons.

 Some 120 participants from 20 countries gathered for the International Conference on 3D Printed Firearms, organised by Europol and the Dutch National Police (Politie) as part of EMPACT Firearms, to address the latest challenges that law enforcement face in their efforts to address this threat.

Fundamental processes for developing joint intervention strategies in this field were explored, including tactical and forensic research, software, scientific developments and legislation.

When opening the conference, Police Chief Gerda van Leeuwen of the Dutch National Police described the development of 3D printed firearms as a current and future threat. International cooperation is therefore considered crucial in order to retaliate.

Nowadays, 3D printed weapons are no longer reserved for works of fiction:

In 2019, two people were shot dead in Halle, Germany, by a perpetrator using a homemade gun partially manufactured with a 3D printer using a blueprint downloaded from the Internet.

In April 2021, the Spanish National Police raided and shut down an illegal workshop producing 3D printed weapons in the Canary Islands. The police seized two 3D printers, weapon components, 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 a woman were arrested in Keighley, UK, as part of a terrorism investigation. All three were charged with possessing 3D printed weapon parts.

Conclusions of the conference worth mentioning include:

  • Law enforcement and the industry/private sector must unite forces and collaborate in order to identify and control developments around 3D printed firearms.
  • An international network of 3D printed firearms experts will be created and assigned the task of keeping law enforcement up to date on the developments in the production of these homemade weapons.
  • A fact sheet will be drawn up from the participants’ key recommendations and other developments around 3D printed firearms, and distributed to partners and policymakers around the world.

Firearm trafficking is a priority for EU law enforcement. The European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) has developed strategic and operational plans to address the threat as part of its Firearms Project. Within this sphere, Europol’s “Weapons and Explosives” analysis project leads 16 countries in their battle against the threat of 3D printed weapons.


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