A French 3D printer maker is fighting back against the rise of 3D printed guns by flooding the internet with non-functioning firearm designs.
As part of its ‘HarmlessGuns’ campaign, Dagoma claimed it was actively “spreading 3D files of harmless weapons, thus access to actual ones gets harder”.
The company said it trawled the internet to collect hundreds of weapons blueprints, which it subtly modified to “make them unusable when printed”.
The modifications included making the diameter of gun barrels too small for bullets to fit down and changing triggers so they missed firing pins. According to the company more than 400 weapon parts were “rendered harmless”.
To make the dummy blueprints more difficult to detect, the adapted designs retained the same filename, weight and size of the originals.
The company says it then used VPNs and private servers as well as dozens of fake user profiles to disseminate the modified blueprints to the forums and dedicated websites where the originals were found.
The dummy files have been downloaded more than 13,000 times, Dagoma claimed.
“Today, millions of 3D printers can potentially become weapons factories. So we attacked the root of the problem: the blueprint files of 3D printable weapons,” said the company’s co-founder Matthew Regnier.
“We actively act to stem the propagation of 3D weapons files on Internet by spreading 3D files of harmless weapons, thus access to actual ones gets harder. At first sight there was nothing to suggest they were not operational, yet they could not be assembled, no weapon was useable,” he added.
While many 3D printed guns are unusable or even harmful to the shooter, many can be successfully fired. A 2013 New South Wales Police test of a 3D printed ‘Liberator’ gun, it fired a bullet 17cm into a block of gelatine soap, which ballisticians use as a proxy for human muscle.
Tests by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives, showed such weapons were capable of being “lethal” and could fire a bullet that could “reach vital organs and perforate the skull”.
Plastic printed weapons and the equipment to make them keep turning up in police raids, and more frequently in Australia than in any other country, according to 2018 analysis from QUT researchers Angela Daly and Monique Mann.
Government’s and law agencies worldwide are grappling with how to deal with 3D printed guns, the blueprints of which are readily available online.
In the US there are some restrictions in some states about 3D weapon blueprints, although files can be shared online, following a legal battle based on Second Amendment grounds last year.
Spain and Germany have introduced laws to prohibit the “dissemination of information” like CAD files relating to 3D printed firearms without a license.
In 2015 the NSW state parliament passed legislation to make it illegal to possess files – ‘digital blueprint’ – that can be used to manufacture a firearm on a 3D printer or electronic milling machine.
“It has also been suggested that 3D printing machines be pre-loaded with a database of designs that could be matched to prints and prevented from printing firearms,” QUT's Mann told Computerworld in July.
This is a solution currently being pursued by Dagoma, the company said: "We are developing a 3D gun files detector on our software to prevent their manufacturing on our 3D printers."