Anyone With $12 and a 3-D Printer Can Make an Untraceable Gun
Policy + Politics

Anyone With $12 and a 3-D Printer Can Make an Untraceable Gun


From now on, you may want to consider anyone with internet access and a 3-D printer armed and dangerous.

A new report from the non-profit research organization the Rand Corporation says sales of firearms on the dark web – a part of the internet available only through special and typically anonymous networks -- have taken off. Of the more than 800 weapons-related listings on the dark web the study examined, firearms were the most common item for sale, appearing in 42 percent of listings, with “arms-related digital products” (such as guides for homemade explosives) accounting for 27 percent and other weapons (such as stun guns) at 22 per cent.

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Handguns such as Glocks were the most commonly listed, at 84 percent of all arms listings, followed by rifles (10 percent) and submachine guns (6 percent). The study said it is common for serial numbers to be removed, and ammunition is often sold in combination with a firearm.

According to the military website Defense One, computer-aided designs for 3-D-printed guns go for an average of $12 on the dark web. That means that anyone with a sufficiently high-quality 3-D printer could print an unlimited number of firearms that lack serial numbers and other traceable elements. 

The Rand study said that while guns sales on the dark web are miniscule compared with overall sales of firearms, the dark web “is an enabler for the circulation of illegal weapons already on the black market, as well as a potential source of diversion for legally owned weapons.”

The dark web – essentially an online black market -- is a shady world of content that uses the internet but is not indexed by common search engines.

The ‘dark web’ is a section of the internet not accessible to the everyday user,” the Rand study said. “[But] armed with the correct software package and possession of a known dark web address, navigating to the dark web becomes as simple as surfing the Internet.”

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Payments on the dark web are made with crypto currencies such as Bitcoin, but the study says increasingly popular “altcoins” include Monero, Ethereum, Ripple and Litecoin.

Among the other findings of the study:

  • America is the most common source for guns for sale on the dark web, with almost 60 percent of the firearms listings “associated with products that originate from the U.S.” The biggest market, however, is in Europe.
  • “The dark web has the potential to become the platform of choice” for lone-wolf terrorists or small groups looking to buy arms and munitions.
  • The dark web offers anonymity to buyers and sellers and removes geographical barriers to illegal trade.