3D-printed "gun parts" are actually spare parts for the printer

Doubts raised over claims that police have uncovered a 3D-printed gun in Manchester

Nicole Kobie
25 Oct 2013

Police in Manchester have arrested a man for 3D printing the components to a gun - but some have suggested the objects actually appear to be spare printer parts.

Police raided the home in Baguley, Manchester yesterday, finding what they described as a 3D printer, a plastic magazine and trigger, "which could be fitted together to make a viable 3D gun".

"It they are found to be viable components for a 3D gun, it would be the first ever seizure of this kind in the UK," the police said in a statement. "The parts are now being forensically examined by firearms specialists to establish if they could construct a genuine device."

However, some - including Gigaom - have pointed out that the parts may be more benign, noting the item the police say is a trigger looks similar to part of a component listed on Thingiverse, a database of 3D printable designs.

part comparison

Scott Crawford, head of 3D printing firm Revolv3D, said the parts were common to anyone with that model of 3D printer.

"As soon as I saw the picture... I instantly thought 'I know that part'," he told PC Pro. "They designed an upgrade for the printer soon after it was launched, and most people will have downloaded and upgraded this part within their printer. It basically pulls the plastic filament, and it used to jam an awful lot.

"The new system that they've put out, which includes that little lever that they're claiming is the trigger, is most definitely the same part," he said. "It may be that someone has used that part in a gun design... but I'm confident it's an upgrade for the printer and not an actual gun part."

"I suspect the police have gone into this place for all the air rifles and everything else they found in there, they've seen the printer and they've jumped to a conclusion that this is actually been used to print guns," he said. "But none of the parts they've shown indicate that to me. Those are both very common printer parts that anyone who owns a 3D printer will print at some stage."

The man was also arrested on suspicion of making gunpowder.

Significant discovery

Detective Inspector Chris Mossop of Challenger's Organised Crime Coordination Unit said it was a "significant discovery".

"If what we have seized is proven to be viable components capable of constructing a genuine firearm, then it demonstrates that organised crime groups are acquiring technology that can be bought on the high street to produce the next generation of weapons," he said in a statement. "In theory, the technology essentially allows offenders to produce their own guns in the privacy of their own home, which they can then supply to the criminal gangs who are causing such misery in our communities."

He noted the plastic materials make them easier to smuggle as they can avoid X-ray detection. "These could be the next generation of firearms and a lot more work needs to be done to understand the technology and the scale of the problem," he said. "If what we have seized today can, as we suspect, be used to make a genuine firearm then today will be an important milestone in the fight against this next generation of homemade weapons."

3D printed guns have been attempted in the US to limited degrees of success.

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