Readily available homemade firearms have long been the ultimate gun-control nightmare, and a new report suggests that Michael Bloomberg’s bad dream may become reality sooner than even he could have imagined.
The RAND Corporation recently released a study that found instructions for 3D-printed firearms being sold on the “dark web” for as little as $12. Researchers were hoping to determine the size and scope of the trade in firearms and related products on cryptomarkets, and they discovered that in 2017 “arms-related” encompasses much more than physical weapons.
Researchers determined that of the 811 arms-related listings on 12 cryptomarkets, firearms took the lion’s share of the market with 339 separate listings. The headline-generator, however, has been the second-largest portion of arms-related listings: digital products, which included computer aided design (CAD) files and bomb-building instructions.
“While guides and manuals on how to make bombs at home were illegally circulating on the web well before the establishment of cryptomarkets, the level of accessibility provided by these platforms represents reason for high concern among policy makers and practitioners,” researchers said in the study.
Though only 11 of the 811 listings include 3D printing instructions, the rapidly descending cost of 3D printers is giving gun-control advocates serious cause for worry.
“The proliferation of guidelines and 3D models, in combination with the increased quality of commercially available 3D printers, may result in more untraceable weapons,” researchers said. “The availability of 3D models for additive manufacturing of parts, components or full firearms has been recognised by the international community as a major source of concern.”
But not everyone agrees that the risk from homemade, 3D-printed firearms will present much of a problem in the short-term.
“It’s important to note that it’s not a particularly expedient process of making a gun,” Dr. Angela Daly said at the 5th International Conference on Cybercrime and Computer Forensics on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Making a plastic, 3D-printed firearm is laborious, time consuming, and in the case of “cheap and nasty” 3D printers, likely to result in badly-made parts.
A more likely scenario involves criminal elements using gun designs at larger facilities that are capable of manufacturing metal parts.
“What they’re going to do is stand over people who have a mid-sized commercial operation that utilizes additive manufacturing. If they go in there with their own guns, their real guns, and say ‘here’s our 3D gun file that we’ve downloaded, the design file, do it or else’,” Daly said.
She also pointed out that digital files like the ones RAND found aren’t limited to the so-called “darknet.”
“It is everywhere. It’s just a simple Google search, because it’s not criminalised [in Victoria] at the moment.”