3D-printed guns no longer a matter of fiction

The Louisville Field Division said they’ve found about 20 3D-printed guns in Louisville this past year in criminal investigations, a few at violent crime scenes
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 7:21 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - What used to be something straight out of the movies can now be done by almost anyone in a matter of hours.

“It’s like plug and play almost,” Earl Griffith, ATF Firearms & Ammunition Technology Chief told WAVE News.

3D-printed guns and parts are showing up across America.

“Just this year alone, we’ve seen an uptick of about 20 percent,” Griffith said.

Griffith is headquartered in West Virginia but came to Louisville to train local law enforcement on the gun-printing technology.

The technology does take some skill and patience, and uses plastic filament loaded into the printer and software, or a sim card.

“Less than 200 dollars, you can buy this,” Griffith said of a 3D printer on display. “There’s a sim card that plugs right into it.”

“(The printer) starts from the bottom and it builds it up, it starts adding, adding, adding,” Griffith said.

With some limitations, it’s legal in the U.S. to make your own gun. You still have to legally be able to possess a gun in the first place.

Then there’s the Undetectable Firearms Act which requires guns have a metal component and be detectable by a metal detector.

However, most gun parts, like the slides and barrels, are not regulated or tracked by the ATF.

Neither are the sim cards that tell the 3D printers what to do.

“If we don’t have a serial number, if we don’t have markings, it’s very difficult to determine the origin or the source of that gun,” Shawn Morrow, Special Agent in Charge for the Louisville Field Division said. “That creates challenges for our investigators.”

The division includes the state of Kentucky, southern Indiana and West Virginia.

Morrow said they’ve found about 20 3D-printed guns in Louisville this past year in criminal investigations, a few at violent crime scenes.

“They are out there, we’ve seen them, we’ve seen a few cases that involve gang members and some violent criminals,” he explained.

In Louisville, he says, there are so many guns on the street that it’s still cheaper, easier and faster to buy one than making one.

That’s not what the ATF is seeing in other states with more stringent gun laws.

“For instance in California, they report in the last year, anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of the firearms that are taken into police custody were privately made,” Morrow said.

There’s a much smaller, illegal piece that the ATF does worry about which they are finding more and more of, conversion devices.

“This little part is a machine gun by federal law,” Griffith said of a tiny plastic part which fit well in the palm of his hand.

The converters can be dropped into a firearm in seconds.

“Like this and then you close (the gun) up,” Griffith demonstrated. “Push a button. and now that just converted a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun.”

The training for local law enforcement included how to spot printed converters.

“Twenty-something cents worth of material to make that, and that can be made in less than 40 minutes,” Griffith said.

No longer a matter of fiction, 3D-printed guns are now something the ATF is working to keep an eye on.

“We want to stay ahead of it,” Morrow said.

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