Guns from home printers—Can laws stop problematic use of 3-D printers?

Guns from home printers—Can laws stop problematic use of 3-D printers?
Seized plastic made guns produced by a 3-D printer are displayed at a police station in Yokohama on May 8, 2014. A Japanese man suspected of possessing guns made with a 3-D printer has been arrested in what was said to be the country's first such detention.

The arrest of a man who possessed plastic handguns allegedly manufactured with a 3-D printer has sent shockwaves through society.

The spread of 3-D printing technology, which can be used to manufacture almost anything based on three-dimensional data, is said to be triggering not only a 21st-century industrial revolution, but also a "revolution of crime."

Observers say authorities should discuss measures to prevent abuse of such technology even while taking full advantage of its uses.

Kanagawa prefectural police searched the house of Yoshitomo Imura, a 28-year-old employee of Shonan Institute of Technology, on suspicion of violating the Swords and Firearms Control Law. Police confiscated five homemade guns in the search and concluded that two of them possessed a lethal power five times the legal limit, capable of firing a bullet that could penetrate more than 10 plywood boards. Police investigators were said to be at a loss for words upon witnessing the sheer firepower of what appeared merely to be a cheap toy gun.

Investigative sources said Imura purchased a 3-D printer in September from a sales agent in Shizuoka Prefecture. Made in the United States, the self-assembly printer cost about ¥60,000. A month later, Imura succeeded in manufacturing a gun using the printer and a blueprint obtained online.

Plastic guns are seen as ideal for criminal purposes, as they cannot be discovered with a metal detector and leave no evidence if incinerated after use in crimes. Such weapons are viewed as the ultimate "disposable gun" that can outwit the conventional wisdom of criminal investigations.

Threats posed by illicit use of 3-D printers do not end with arms production. In Australia, an Eastern European gang secretly placed a 3-D printed scanning device on an automatic teller machine to obtain bank account data and succeeded in stealing $100,000.

According to Trend Micro Inc., a Tokyo-based company specialising in data management, such scanning devices are mass-produced in China and traded for about ¥200,000 on an underground Russian website.

If data are available on the composition of a registered seal for a bank account, expensive objects created by famous artists, rare coins and others, a 3-D printer could mass-produce elaborate copies of them cheaply.

To prevent illicit use of 3-D printers, Masahiro Sugawa, an assistant professor of Niigata University specialising in laws related to 3-D printers, said, "Driving a wedge into the process of creating and distributing harmful data is the most realistic route."

Sugawa also said the recent case occurred because blueprints of homemade guns were distributed on the Internet.

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