New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione today issued a warning on the potential for 3D printed guns to be used in serious crimes in the state.
The NSW Police revealed that the force has created and tested two 3D-printed firearms. The police used the Liberator pistol blueprints produced by US-firm Defense Distributed. The original plans for the gun were downloaded more than 100,000 times before the company pulled them from its site under pressure from the US State Department.
Police believe that despite this, the files are still circulating.
The commissioner said that a Liberator pistol had experienced a catastrophic misfire during testing. The failure would have been capable of seriously injuring the person using the firearm, the police chief said.
One of the motivations for holding today's press conference was to warn of danger to the user if someone attempts to print, assemble and fire a Liberator out of curiosity.
As with other firearms, possession of a Liberator is prohibited unless the owner has an appropriate licence. It's an "offence to make one, possess one, use one," Scipione said.
"Not only are they illegal, they are enormously dangerous," Scipione said.
When the pistol successfully fired, it propelled a bullet with sufficient force to kill a target, the police revealed. When tested using a block of so-called ballistic soap – a block of gelatine used for firearms testing – the shot penetrated 17cm, which could be a fatal wound, the police said.
"This is now becoming a problem the world over," Scipione said.
The police spent $35 on materials to create a Liberator and used a $1700 desktop 3D printer. The only metal parts used in the pistol's construction where the firing pin, created with a nail, and a .380 ACP calibre pistol cartridge. The all-plastic body means that the pistol is hard for security forces to detect.
Inspector Wayne Hoffman said the creation of a pistol took the police around 27 hours. Assembling the pistol's 17 parts took around a minute. Hoffman said that the police had exactly followed the original instructions for creating the Liberator, with a number of modified versions of the file currently in circulation.
"We think it's only a matter of time before we see one of these weapons used in a serious crime in NSW," Scipione said. The commissioner said that it is "incredibly difficult" to stop distribution of the files, drawing an analogy with the illegal downloading of software, movies and music.
The Liberator is "truly undetectable, untraceable, cheap and easy to make".
The government will have to consider whether regulating CAD files used to create 3D-printed firearms needs to be regulated, the commissioner said, but added he is "not sure that we're well placed globally to deal with he transfer and downloading of thee files" and that he doubts that regulations would be able to stop the files being shared and downloaded.
File sharing service Mega last week removed plans for the one-bullet plastic gun because of confusion over the legality of distributing the blueprints.