A 3D printer is almost all you need to fashion your own firearm. No wonder MI5 boss fears extremists


The young men showing off on social media, firing guns, wearing ski masks and body armour, are trying to look scary — and they do.

The really terrifying thing about them, though, is that their state-of-the-art weapons have not been legally bought — or even stolen — but were made in a workshop, or in a teenager’s bedroom.

Welcome to the world of 3D-printed firearms, where anyone with a modicum of technical knowledge and a 3D printer costing as little as £200 can make high-grade plastic weapons in the privacy — or secrecy — of their own home.

Using developments in computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D-printing technology, men (and it is almost always men) who believe in the right to bear arms in the name of ‘freedom’ have come up with a way to make guns cheap and accessible.

But this technology also enables criminals to make weapons — and it has already arrived in the UK.

‘Printing scary stuff until we get banned’ is the motto of one gun-crazy contributor on Twitter. ‘Print every weapon,’ says another. A few clicks on your smartphone or computer and you can see videos of them firing high-powered handguns and assault rifles. They boast about their killing power as well as the number of bullets that they can fire.

The young men showing off on social media, firing guns, wearing ski masks and body armour, are trying to look scary ¿ and they do

The young men showing off on social media, firing guns, wearing ski masks and body armour, are trying to look scary — and they do

You can also find chat rooms, forums, and websites that praise the virtues of stateof-the-art weapons made from plastic.

Only last week, MI5 Director General Ken McCallum issued a stark warning about a growing number of far-Right extremists becoming radicalised ‘from the comfort of their bedrooms’.

They are attempting to acquire ‘firearms . . . whether illegally obtained, homemade or 3D-printed’.

There was thought to have only been one seizure of this weapon in England or Wales before the pandemic. But since January 2021, there have been 21, not including an unquantified but ‘large’ cache found by the Metropolitan Police in North-West London last month in the biggest raid of its kind.

Matthew Cronjager (18 years old) was arrested last October for trying to obtain a 3D-printed gun, or a sawn off shotgun, to murder a friend.

The Mail can report that politicians and police are so worried about 3D-printed firearms arriving in their hands that they have created Project Interknow to determine the extent of the problem, and devise strategies to combat it over the coming years.

What then are 3D printed weapons?

The really terrifying thing about them, though, is that their state-of-the-art weapons have not been legally bought ¿ or even stolen ¿ but were made in a workshop, or in a teenager¿s bedroom

The really terrifying thing about them, though, is that their state-of-the-art weapons have not been legally bought — or even stolen — but were made in a workshop, or in a teenager’s bedroom

It is crucial to learn the basics of 3D printing.

In the past, objects might have been made from multiple pieces and then attached together. But with 3D printing, they are created in one piece within a frame that allows moving nozzles to precisely spray molten material in layers defined by a computer program.

This eliminates the need for seams to join different components together. The finished product is stronger and more durable.

A small group of obsesives has made designs for an amazing array of weaponry available online since 2020.

It means that anyone with a 3D printer — which are usually about the size of an average home microwave and start at around £200 — a few spools of specialised plastic filament, and a handful of metal parts that can be bought on the Dark Web, can make a gun.

Cody Wilson, an American law student, was the first to 3D-print a firearm. He called his single-shot handgun ‘the Liberator’, after a weapon dropped to the French Resistance by the Allies during World War II.

That attracted the attention of law enforcement authorities worldwide, but wasn’t seen as a viable threat.

Speaking publicly about Project Interknow and 3D-printed gun crime for the first time, Matthew Perfect, Head of the National Crime Agency’s (NCA’s) National Firearms Targeting Centre, says: ‘We looked at the Liberator in 2013, but because of the technology and the plastic, we found it to be hugely vulnerable — and as dangerous to the person firing it as it was to the intended victim because it could explode.’

Welcome to the world of 3D-printed firearms, where anyone with a modicum of technical knowledge and a 3D printer costing as little as £200 can make high-grade plastic weapons in the privacy ¿ or secrecy ¿ of their own home

Welcome to the world of 3D-printed firearms, where anyone with a modicum of technical knowledge and a 3D printer costing as little as £200 can make high-grade plastic weapons in the privacy — or secrecy — of their own home

After that, law enforcement’s interest in 3D weapons all but disappeared. Two things changed in 2019 and 2020 to bring them back to focus.

In Halle, an eastern German town, a far-Right extremist aged 27 killed two people using home-made firearms. He had intended to use printed weapons during a service at a synagogue, but couldn’t get inside.

When he targeted people nearby instead, his guns repeatedly jammed — which did not go unnoticed by criminals and other extremists as he live-streamed the event — but his actions put the issue of 3D-printed weapons back on the agenda.

Second, the FGC-9, an innovative printed firearm, was introduced in 2020. It is a 9mm semi-automatic pistol/calibre carbine. With FGC standing for F*** Gun Control, its blueprints were posted on the internet by a 28-year-old German gun designer going by the pseudonym JStark1809 (he was only ever named by police as ‘Jacob D.’).

JStark died in a police raid at his home last year. The death of JStark is believed to be suspicious by printed gun advocates. However, the authorities attributed the cause to a heart condition. Like almost all other 3D-printed guns, the FGC-9 needed some metal parts — the barrel, firing pin, hammer and springs. Unlike those before it, however, it was reliable, powerful, could fire multiple rounds, and represented competition for traditional weapons — because it caught the eye of criminals.

The FGC-9 was the most common 3D-printed weapon seized from the UK. Next came the PG22 single-shot handgun. After the FGC-9’s appearance, the NCA began a review of the 3D-printed landscape and decided it merited more attention.

‘Computer-aided design had become much more advanced in terms of the technology behind the blueprints and the 3D printers,’ says Mr Perfect, who set up the review. ‘And printers had become so much more accessible, and cheaper.

‘On top of that was the pandemic, where lockdowns meant people had more time alone and when designers of 3D-printed weapons had little else to do.

‘When we looked at the overall analysis, it was clear that with 3D printing you could now make a good automatic sub-machine gun, which is what the FGC-9 is. So far, we have identified 114 designs of viable printed weapons.’

Mr Perfect says that while producing a working 3D-printed gun is not easy for the average person, ‘and requires much trial and error’, you would not have to be an expert in CAD to make one.

Using developments in computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D-printing technology, men (and it is almost always men) who believe in the right to bear arms in the name of ¿freedom¿ have come up with a way to make guns cheap and accessible

Using developments in computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D-printing technology, men (and it is almost always men) who believe in the right to bear arms in the name of ‘freedom’ have come up with a way to make guns cheap and accessible

Though the metal parts must be acquired to use your 3D-printed weapon, I found them readily available on the mainstream internet and the Dark Web — a matrix of encrypted websites that can be used with complete anonymity.

Ammunition is available there, too — but before he died, JStark posted guidance on how to make your own.

The Mail doesn’t name websites or social media groups that offer firearm blueprints access, but I did find them and downloaded 3D printing instructions for three weapons. They were the Glocknofsky, a handgun with two barrels; the PlastikovV3, an automatic rifle similar the AK47; as well as the Stingray FGC-9 MkII. This is an updated version the FGC-9.

Tom Younger, a University College London-based design engineer, saw them and was impressed. He confirmed that they had all the information needed to allow a 3D printer hobbyist to start creating viable versions.

America is the home of 3D-printed weaponry advocates with the most media attention. Both sides of the Atlantic have their identities. However, most U.S. states do not allow them to break any laws.

Officers say they are not thought to be involved in criminal activity: they see their role as upholding the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the right to keep and bear arms.

But this technology also enables criminals to make weapons ¿ and it has already arrived in the UK

But this technology also enables criminals to make weapons — and it has already arrived in the UK

Designers find our abstention from firearms bizarre. We see their obsession as dangerous madness.

To discuss the clash of cultures, I reached out to two leaders in 3D-printed weaponry. Neither replied.

Matt Larosiere (who writes about guns and law in the U.S.), gave a recent interview where he stated that the movement was motivated more by liberty than a desire to see guns in the hands dangerous people.

‘There is no “3D Guns Incorporated”, and there’s no “CEO of 3D-printed guns”,’ he said. ‘But I will tell you the prevailing motivations that I’ve seen of the people in our communities is just an incredible love of freedom and the People, and an understanding that we have the right to bodily autonomy.

‘And the best way to keep our bodies secure is to have effective mechanisms to defend ourselves.’

Alarmingly, the police described last month’s raid in London as targeting ‘a suspected makeshift 3D firearm home factory’, which would suggest more than one printer was involved, though the Met will not confirm that.

This could be significant because while the lone printed gunmaker is a threat, experts have been fearing the arrival of 3D-printed weapons ‘farms’ where multiple printers could be used to make components which can then be assembled and sold to criminals on an industrial scale.

Specialist Crime Command Detective Inspector Matt Webb, who carried out the raid would not discuss it in depth for legal reasons. But, he said that 3D printed weapons are becoming a growing concern.

¿Printing scary stuff until we get banned¿ is the motto of one gun-crazy contributor on Twitter. ¿Print every weapon,¿ says another

‘Printing scary stuff until we get banned’ is the motto of one gun-crazy contributor on Twitter. ‘Print every weapon,’ says another

‘3D-printing technology has advanced drastically,’ he said. ‘Imagine going back to the first days of the iPod, which had very little memory and cost hundreds of pounds.

‘Now, I can buy a smartphone with a vastly improved memory that can play music, make phone calls, surf the web and take pictures, all for less money. 3D printing technology has advanced at a similar rate. The technology has improved as well as the costs of 3D printing have fallen.

‘So instead of thousands of pounds back in 2013, you can get a printer for £200 off the shelf. It’s perfectly legal to own, and from that you could print yourself a 3D firearm, so it’s an emerging threat, an emerging trend, and criminals are opening their eyes to the possible opportunities.

‘At the moment, it’s small. Last year, we seized more than 500 traditional firearms in the Met alone, compared with just 21 printed firearms across the whole of the country, but it’s a growing threat and we’re working to get ahead of it.’

DI Webb says that while concerns over printing ‘farms’ exist, such production lines would require a highly skilled team, lots of power and enormous levels of internet bandwidth to download multiple computer files.

And though criminals are taking more of an interest in printed guns, terrorists seem to have been put off — so far — by the 2019 attack in eastern Germany, when they repeatedly failed.

Dr Rajan Basra, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, has been following extremist-related cases in which 3D-printed firearms were either used or seized.

Just a few clicks away on your phone or computer, you can watch videos of them shooting high-powered automatic assault rifles and handguns, boasting about their killing power and the number of bullets they can fire

You can easily watch them shoot high-powered assault rifles or handguns.

He said that only 12 were found in Europe. All but one involved far-Right extremists. ‘Printed weapons seem to have captured the imagination of far-Right terrorists, but not Islamist extremists,’ he says. ‘They haven’t mentioned printed guns once.

‘Instead, criminals are taking an interest. Criminals are attracted to the FGC-9 because it’s a cool gun. It’s futuristic . . . Cutting edge.

‘The issue now is the distance between people’s perception of what 3D-printed guns are capable of and what they really are capable of. That will determine how popular they become.’

Dr Basra says one deterrent approach might be to ask internet service providers to block access from the UK to sites offering printed weapons downloads and instructions: ‘If internet service providers can block access to sports websites showing illegal football streams, why aren’t they doing the same for these?’

I asked the Internet Service Providers’ Association whether its members could do this. It replied that the Government’s Online Safety Bill, currently working its way through Parliament, would put new safety obligations on sites such as those disseminating plans for printed weapons.

It said that it could also block sites but only after a judge had issued a court order. Police could then apply for the order. Some more ‘responsible’ weapons sites won’t allow downloads to people tapping into them from outside the U.S. — but there are simple internet add-ons called virtual private networks (VPNs) that enable computer users to pretend to be in different locations. I used one to place me in the U.S. to be able to download.

As part of Project Interknow, the NCA is liaising with the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Counter Terrorism Policing and police forces up and down the country to find ways to limit the printed weapons threat. This includes educating police officers about what to watch out for and warning 3D-printing hobbyists not to download blueprints for firearms.

The NCA’s Mr Perfect suggests parents who buy children 3D printers should warn them about the printed gun danger, in much the same way they might warn their children of pornography when they are first bought a smartphone.

The Met’s DI Webb said police would like to see politicians make it an offence to download CAD files capable of being used to make printed weapons — and he warned that printing them could result in lengthy prison sentences.

‘If somebody creates a 3D-printed firearm that is able to fire a viably lethal round, that person could be committing an offence under Section 5 of the 1968 Firearms Act, and that carries a minimum of five years’ imprisonment,’ he said.

‘But if they go on to fire the weapon with the intention to kill or cause somebody harm, recent changes in sentencing guidelines now mean they could be imprisoned for life.’

Evidence indicates that criminals and terrorists prefer traditional weapons to those from the underworld.

But, given the advancement of 3D-printing technology, it could soon be cheaper, less risky and just as deadly to print weapons at home, and that is a tipping point nobody — save ‘freedom-loving’ gun enthusiasts — wants to see.

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