“All you need is a weekend’s time and $ 50 for the material.”
This was the advice of Stephan Balliet, a German Neo-Nazi who was sentenced to life in prison for killing two people after he tried to attack a synagogue in the city of Halle on October 9, 2019.
Balliet (27) refers to 3D-printed firearms. In the same post, on the now-defunct far-right message board, Meguca, Balliet writes, just minutes before his attack: ‘There are, of course, dozens of other designs, so what’s special about mine? Simply put, I prefer live tests. ”
He then provided a link to a live stream on the gaming platform, Twitch, which aired his gun attack.
In his manifesto, which was also loaded on Meguca, apart from his goal of killing as many anti-whites as possible, Balliet prefers, Balliet also states that he wants to prove the viability of improvised weapons.
Underneath the closet of firearms Balliet had in Halle was a submachine gun with 3D-printed plastic components, such as the magazine and grip.
Balliet’s attack is seen as a breakthrough moment in cases of far-right ‘extremism’, describe by several experts as the first offender to make a weapon out of 3D-printed elements.
The world’s first rifle ever made from a 3D printer was built in 2013 by Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old gun rights activist in the United States.
Ballistic and firearms expert Phillip Boyce, of the British firm Forensic Equity, said that 3D-printed rifles have evolved since then, despite the fact that the “standard and quality” are about the same, with different designs now available.
These are no longer just handguns that can be made from a 3D printer, Boyce said.
‘You can have a fully automatic AR15 rifle or a fully automatic AK47. And normally the fully automatic weapons have steel barrels, but the rest are made of plastic, ”he added.
3D-printed rifles become ‘more accessible’
Since 2019, there has been an increase in the number of arrests and convictions in a number of European countries and elsewhere of people downloading and or attempting to build their own 3D-printed rifles. And so far, it seems, most have far-right links, experts say.
In April this year, Spanish police raided a workshop that manufactured 3D-printed weapons in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. They found two 3D printers, a replica assault rifle and several barrel barrels. Officials said they also found manuals on urban guerrilla warfare and white supremacist literature. The owner of the workshop was arrested and charged with illegal possession of weapons.
The following month, two men and a woman were arrested in the British city of Keighley as part of an investigation into “right-wing terrorism”, police said. All three were charged with possession of components of a 3D-printed firearm. One of the suspects is facing an additional charge of distributing an image of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
And in June, a 15-year-old British girl from Derbyshire was charged with six terrorist offenses, including possession of a manual on how to make a firearm from a 3D printer.
“The technology is becoming increasingly accessible,” said Rajan Basra, senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London, explaining the growing interest in 3D-printed rifles.
Basra also said that Baillet’s attack in Halle ‘helped to suggest the idea that you could do something on your own’, including access to internet forums where blueprints can be found.
“There are many far-right communities online where this material is shared,” he added.
Boyce, of Forensic Equity, agreed that there is a growing trend in the fact that criminals and far-right ‘extremists’ manufacture weapons from 3D printers.
‘This is very worrying because in the UK it is very difficult for criminals to acquire real guns. “But my colleagues in the Metropolitan Police told me they see more 3D-printed rifles,” Boyce said.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, the UK’s National Crime Agency said it was “closely monitoring the impact of 3D guns and their unique vulnerabilities, and working closely with partners to suppress the availability of illegal firearms in the UK” .
Concern about the future
But in a world where almost anything can be bought, why would criminals bother to make a gun instead of just paying for one?
Basra said it’s all about access.
‘To buy a gun, at least in Europe, you need access to the illegal firearms market – and not everyone has the connections that give you access. Then you have to come up with other ways. ”
Boyce said the way to do that was to convert an empty firearm or print a gun in 3D. And when it comes to money, it’s going to cost you a penny, if not a few pounds, to make a well-working 3D-printed rifle.
‘But if you want, say a pistol or revolver on the black market that will cost you somewhere around £ 5,000 [$6,950] for the right thing. ”
Basra warned that the increasing use of plastic rifles, which have no serial numbers, could be a glimpse into the future of attacks in Europe.
“That’s the real concern,” he said. “The good thing is that police forces in Europe have apparently switched to this issue,” he added, pointing to the arrests in Spain and the United Kingdom.
“But it may be one of the waves of the future.”