3D-printed gun seized in Manchester is actually spare printer parts

Greater Manchester Police have jumped the gun in declaring two pieces of plastic a potential weapon.

Greater Manchester Police claim that their raid on a gang hideout early this morning led to the seizure of the first 3D-printed gun in the UK. Except, they probably haven’t.

For those who aren’t familiar with this, it’s now possible to 3D-print a working gun. Cody Wilson founded Defense Distributed in 2012 as a platform for his belief in the right to bear arms, using the site as a place to distribute (hence the name) the designs for the Liberator pistol.

Every single piece of this pistol, except for the firing pin - which can be an off-the-shelf nail from any hardware store - is plastic. It took a long time to get the design right, but eventually Wilson demonstrated in front of reporters that the Liberator works.

It’s plastic, though, with a smooth, unbored barrel, so it’s very difficult to aim, and the pressure and heat that it has to contain during firing can cause warping and cracks that render the gun useless. Or, worse, make it explode. In short, it's a crap gun.

There’s a reason guns are made of metal; the Liberator is almost more of a political statement by Wilson than something intended for regular. It’s a middle finger aimed at any government that wants to restrict access to any firearm as a point of principle. By making the plans available online, disseminating them through file-sharing sites, it makes suppressing the idea effectively impossible.

For police in countries around the world, like the UK, the thought of people being able to bypass gun laws and print off a gun at home is terrifying. And so, to Manchester. Here’s the statement from GMP:

Component parts for what could be the UK's first ever 3D gun have been seized by Greater Manchester Police.

As part of Challenger, the largest ever multi-agency operation to target organised criminality in Manchester, officers from Greater Manchester Police executed a series of warrants in the Baguley area on Thursday 24 October 2013. During the searches, officers found a 3D printer and what is suspected to be a 3D plastic magazine and trigger which could be fitted together to make a viable 3D gun.

It they are found to be viable components for a 3D gun, it would be the first ever seizure of this kind in the UK. The parts are now being forensically examined by firearms specialists to establish if they could construct a genuine device.

Those firearms specialists are going to be disappointed.

The printer found by the police is quite clearly shown in photos to be a Makerbot Replicator 2. It’s one of the most popular brands and models of desktop 3D printer - you can buy one now for $2,199 (that’s £1,356). And one of the great things about the Makerbot Replicator 2 is that, if you need a replacement part, you can print out a new one.

Here’s a drive block design on 3D model sharing site Thingiverse, uploaded by Makerbot:

Here’s one of the two pieces that the police recovered in Manchester, the one they think is a trigger:

Now, check out this replacement filament holder, also a part for the Replicator 2:

And here’s the “magazine”:

Yeah, exactly. I saw @codepope tweet this, so credit to him, but GMP could have just looked at any picture of the Liberator's parts and seen quite quickly that neither seized piece matches up to anything here:

Maybe they were planning on some kind of In The Line Of Fire-type plan, assembling a gun from seemingly normal items, but I doubt it.

The list of other items seized in the raid includes some actual firearms, made of metal, thus raising the question of why these people would even bother going to effort of trying to make the comparatively rubbish Liberator. GMP do say they have a suspect in custody “on suspicion of making gunpowder”, but they might have been mixing up any old chemicals or drugs so let’s wait before using that as proof, too.

One day the police will seize a 3D printer and some pieces of a gun. However, the chances of that gun being anywhere near as effective as a normal firearm - or even an improvised pipe gun, which you can literally make with just a pipe, a bullet and a nail, and which probably runs less of a risk of exploding in your face - is low.

The technology just isn't there yet to make the widespread evasion of gun laws with 3D-printed firearms a risk, and it's worth remembering that before worrying about gangs of criminals wandering the streets with rubbish plastic guns.

The model of the Liberator 3D-printed pistol. (Image: Electric-Eye/Flickr)

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism