3D-printed gun designs are selling for as little as $12 within the darkest corners of the Internet, according to a new report by the RAND Corporation, a global research group.
After reviewing 811 weapons listings on several dark-web markets, researchers found that firearms were the top selling category, with more than 300 active listings, and a surprising candidate emerged as number two: digital products offering gun and explosive manuals and designs.
“While guides and manuals on how to make bombs at home were illegally circulating on the web well before the establishment of cryptomarkets, the level of accessibility provided by these platforms represents reason for high concern among policy makers and practitioners,” researchers said in the study, which unearthed a total of 222 listings for digital products.
Though 3D-printing files themselves did not equate to an overwhelming share of the dark-web market, accounting for only 11 out of hundreds of items up for sale, it’s the accessibility of the files that concerns researchers.
Computer aided design, or CAD, files used to 3D-print guns go for as little as $12 on the dark web, researchers found. Some of these files even included data to print multiple types of guns. According to RAND, the anonymity digital purchases like CAD files offer is a driving force behind the increasing popularity.
“Because many products sold on dark web markets are digital products sending and receiving purchases can be fairly straightforward,” researchers said. “Without the need for orders to be shipped through postal system, the risks associated with orders being intercepted by handlers, including post office employees and custom officials at borders, is reduced.”
Arms watchdogs have long decried 3D-printed gun technology over fears that its accessibility would result in weapons landing in the wrong hands. Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed and creator of the first 3D-printed pistol the Liberator, faced not only public backlash by legal action from the federal government over the release of his 3D-printed gun’s plans online in 2013. “We’ve been controversial for so long to the point it’s normalized,” Wilson told Guns.com in September 2016. Wilson, alongside the Second Amendment Foundation, is still fighting the State Department over the rights to publish the blueprints online.
In the meantime RAND said dark web user aren’t slowing down and the possible consequences should concern the international community. “The proliferation of guidelines and 3D models, in combination with the increased quality of commercially available 3D printers, may result in more untraceable weapons,” researchers said. “The availability of 3D models for additive manufacturing of parts, components or full firearms has been recognised by the international community as a major source of concern.”