How Dangerous Are 3D Printed Guns For Australia?

They can fire real bullets and experts say its a legal minefield to stop them.

What you need to know
  • 3D printed guns don’t go through the same regulations as other weapons manufacturing
  • Since they are made of plastic, there’s potential for them to go undetected via traditional scanners in airports and other secured venues
  • Criminal law experts say Australia needs to legislate to combat this growing problem

Australian police are concerned about the possibility of crime syndicates printing untraceable guns with 3D printers, that can fire bullets and are very difficult to trace.

Earlier this week, a 3D printer was seized from a property on the Gold Coast in Queensland, along with three guns allegedly printed. Police also allegedly fake drivers licences and credit cards created using these printers.

While police are confident they arrested the 27-year-old suspect before he was able to distribute any 3D printed guns, they stressed these weapons had potential to cause serious harm.

"Once you have the item developed to the extent it was as we discovered yesterday, it's only then an opportunity to obtain a few smaller parts, such as firing pins, to create that weapon as being fully functional," said Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards.

A 3D printer seized by police from a property in Mudjimba. IMAGE: Queensland Police.

The arrest came just days after an American self-described 'crypto-anarchist', Cody Wilson, won a five-year legal battle to upload blueprints for 3D printed guns online.

The availability of blueprints online raises serious concerns for Australia, said Queensland University of Technology professor Matthew Rimmer. He is currently undertaking a research project on 3D printing regulation, and said he is "concerned and anxious" over the Wilson decision.

"There's a lot of debate over whether 3D guns can be dealt with under existing gun control laws, or whether there needs to be specialist legislation to deal with it," he told ten daily.

"Various police organisations in Australia have taken the view that they want specialist restrictions on the topic."

Rimmer said countries like Germany, Spain and the UK have specific restrictions around 3D printed weapons.

In New South Wales, it's been illegal to possess 3D gun blueprints since 2015.

A number of 3D printed guns were found at a home in Sydney's eastern suburbs in 2017. IMAGE: NSW Police.

"A 3D printed gun is extremely dangerous. If you produce a firearm using a 3D printer you are committing at least two crimes: Manufacturing a firearm and possession of an illegal firearm," NSW police said at the time.

"Offenders caught manufacturing, selling, owning or in possession of a 3D gun will be prosecuted."

However, in Queensland, a legal precedent under existing laws was set in 2017,  after a man was given a six-month suspended sentence for making several gun parts with a 3D printer. Yet he was prosecuted under existing gun laws.

Police successfully put the gun together and fired it, and the judge said there was a "real need" to deter and protect the public from such a weapon.

And yet in South Australia, a man landed in court due to legal ambiguity with regards to weapon laws.  The 24-year-old was charged with a firearms offence when police found a toy cap gun along with a single shotgun round in his home. The man said the childhood toy had lived in a box since he moved house. He was later acquitted with the judge ruling it was just a toy.

Australian National University professor of criminology Roderic Broadhurst said the Wilson decision in the US was definitely a cause for concern in Australia.

"The [rest of Australia] should follow the lead of NSW in criminalising the possession of digital blueprints for weapons," he told ten daily.