Police may have jumped the gun over 3D printed firearm

Friday 25 October 2013 14.19
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The 3D printer that was seized (Pic: Greater Manchester Police)
The 3D printer that was seized (Pic: Greater Manchester Police)
The trigger (Pic: Greater Manchester Police)
The trigger (Pic: Greater Manchester Police)
The clip (Pic: Greater Manchester Police)
The clip (Pic: Greater Manchester Police)

Manchester police may have jumped the gun after suggesting they had found what could be the UK's first ever 3D printed firearm.

The seizure, initially described as "a really significant discovery", was part of a much-heralded crackdown on organised crime, Operation Challenger, launched by Greater Manchester Police .

But hours later the police released a second statement about the raid in which Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood said: "We need to be absolutely clear that, at this stage, we cannot categorically say we have recovered the component parts for a 3D gun."

That statement came after the shop owner whose premises were raided wept as he proclaimed his innocence.

The 38-year-old man was released on police bail an hour after answering questions by officers over the alleged "gun" parts.

Police raided his model-making shop yesterday, confiscating his 3D printer, and hours later told the media that officers had seized what they suspected to be a 3D plastic magazine and trigger which could be fitted together to make a viable 3D gun.

But speaking on condition of anonymity, shop owner "Andrew" said the supposed trigger and magazine for bullets were actually parts of the printer - which he uses to make models.

Andrew's shop was closed today. Police had seized his computer and other equipment, and he was having to turn away a string of customers.

In tears, he said: "I'm angry, disappointed and hurt. This could kill me, this could threaten the business.

"I was sat here yesterday morning and I saw police officers coming to the door. I just thought it was a customer. We have officers who are customers.

"They came in and said 'We have got a warrant to search this premises'.

"They accused me of making gun parts."

He said two police vans and 30 officers swarmed over his shop and he was taken to Levenshulme police station and held for questioning at 5pm yesterday.

Presented with the "trigger" and "magazine", he explained that one was a spool and the other another part of the printer, to which he said the officer replied: "Oh! OK."

Andrew was released an hour later on bail.

He went on: "Then I suddenly found out all this is going on in the news. They are off their heads... I'm not making anything illegal.

"I can understand them doing their jobs. I just think they have gone over the top.

"To do an investigation, fine, to label them as gun parts is absolutely ridiculous."

The printer, along with a laser cutter, makes anything from cake decorations to toy skulls for Goth teenagers.

Andrew added: "I think it's the future. If people want something, I can make it for them. Not many people do this, it's a niche market. I hope it's going to take off as a business.

"I'm not making anything illegal.

"I just want my stuff back so I can get on with my business."

The shop owner said his two air-rifles and air-pistol were also seized and photos of them issued by police to the media as part of evidence seized by officers during the crime crackdown.

Andrew said he is a member of a legitimate gun club, Rivington Air Arms in Bolton, for which he has identification, and all his weapons are legally held.

Officers also took a model Smith and Wesson gun he was making - which is an "executive toy" and fires rubber bands.

In his later statement about the raid, Mr Heywood said: "What we have seized are items that need further forensic testing by national ballistics experts to establish whether they can be used in the construction of a genuine, viable firearm.

"We will also be conducting a thorough analysis of computers we have recovered to establish any evidence of a blueprint on how to construct such a weapon.

"Clearly the fact we have seized a 3D printer and have intelligence about the possible production of a weapon using this technology is of concern. It's prudent we establish exactly what these parts can be used for and whether they pose any threat.

"What this has also done is open up a wider debate about the emerging threat these next generation of weapons might pose.

"The worrying thing is for me is that these printers can be used to make certain components of guns, while others can be legitimately ordered over the Internet without arousing suspicion. When put together, this could allow a person to construct a firearm in their own home."