A London student was just convicted for using a 3D printer to make a gun—but not just something that looks like a gun. On Wednesday, Tendai Muswere pleaded guilty to manufacturing a lethal firearm with a 3D printer after watching related videos online. The weapon in question resembles a pepper-box revolver, popular in early 19th century America. Muswere says that he made the gun for a “dystopian” college film project, but there’s also evidence of a new global 3D-printed gunsmithing movement happening on the dark corners of the internet. It’s all so weird yet real, it’s scary.
Police say that Muswere is the first person convicted in Britain for making a gun with a 3D-printer. Authorities initially raided his home investigating a drug charge back in October 2017 and found components of a 3D-printed gun. They then found more 3D-printed gun parts in a February 2018 search. Muswere claimed that he printed the firearm for a “dystopian” film project—he did not provide any additional details about the project. Police also say he planned to line the barrels of the 3D-printed guns with steel in order to make them lethal.
That’s all frightening enough. However, just last month, Wired UK reported on a new wave of 3D-printed gun enthusiasts sharing plans for firearms on places like Discord and online gun control forums. These would-be gunsmiths are sharing plans for everything from Glock 17 handguns to AR-15s with a renewed enthusiasm for the lawless dissemination of digital firearms blueprints. They call their group Deterrence Dispensed, which is an obvious reference to Defense Distributed, the organization that started the 3D-printed gun debate in the United States. Wired UK’s Jake Hanrahan talked to one member of the community who goes by the handle Ivan the Troll:
They’re uploading these files individually on services such as Spee.ch, a media-hosting site underpinned by the LBRY blockchain, and they aren’t waiting for anyone to give them permission. They’ve made their own 3D-printed gun designs, modified old ones, and are keeping all the Defence Distributed ones available for free too.
“Even if there was no government telling me I couldn’t do this, I think that I would still do it,” Ivan says. “Some people get a kick out of video games, I like spending hours and hours drawing stuff on CAD.”
So it sounds like a like game, but it’s a game that revolves around the creation and dissemination of 3D-printed gun blueprints. The actual manufacturing or selling of 3D-printed guns has already been banned by the New York state legislature and is also illegal in the United Kingdom. It is, however, troubling to see an international outgrowth of the 3D-printed gun movement find its way back into the headlines.
The 3D-printed gun debate has been quiet since Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson was arrested and charged with sexual assault of a minor last year. The activist had been the public face for a movement to blueprints for 3D-printed guns public since 2012, and the sexual assault charges quickly led to his resignation from Defense Distributed. Without a clear leader, however, it seems that the 3D-printed gun movement has become amorphous and inevitably resilient.
We don’t know where the recently convicted Muswere got the plans to 3D-print a gun of his own, but we do know that he was able to do it. That’s the next scary phase of this threatening technological movement. There’s not an organization that one can necessarily connect to the discovery of a 3D-printed gun. The plans are out in the open, on the internet. People with means can use them to print firearms and maybe more will come up with obscure reasons like a dystopian film project to explain why they’re doing it.
But they can do it. That dystopian film? That’s our actual reality.