Trends in Extremist use of 3D-Printed Guns

In The Future is Now: The Use of 3D-Printed Guns by Extremists and Terrorists, the Global Network on Extremism and Technology (GNET) examines a rising trend in cases of extremists, terrorists, or paramilitaries making, or attempting to make, 3D-printed guns. According to the article, “while we have already seen their proliferation among criminals, we are now witnessing extremists worldwide searching for, downloading, sharing, and manufacturing 3D-printed gun designs.”

The article examines nine particular cases that occurred over the past three years in Europe and Australia.  An in-depth analysis of these recent cases revealed the following four insights:

  • 3D-printed guns have gained traction among the far-right—accounting for all but one case—with examples appearing in five countries. The only exception is a dissident republican paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. Jihadists, meanwhile, are noticeably absent. 
  • Many of these cases also involve attempts to make explosives, meaning that 3D-printed guns have supplemented—and not replaced—existing threats.
  • 3D printing is not a shortcut to acquiring a gun, as the process still involves considerable time and effort. It remains to be seen whether their arrival has shortened the attack planning process.
  • At least one extremist had joined the leading 3D printing gun forum, using it to obtain guidance on his firearms and explosives, seemingly unbeknown to its moderators.

GNET is the academic research arm of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and aims to better understand the ways in which terrorists use technology. For more information on topics related to this piece, visit the HSDL for other resources from GNET in our collection or on the topics of 3D-printing and firearms.

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