When is a gun not a weapon? Swedish police worried about the rise in 3D printed guns

Police in the Swedish city Malmö have reported that criminals in the city are using 3D printers to make working guns.

The problem for the city’s authorities is that under Swedish law it is not a crime to construct or hold a 3D printed gun’s impotent individual parts.

It is only when they are assembled into a working firearm are they in violation of the Arms Act, which is a situation Malmö’s police chief, Stefan Sintéus, is uncomfortable with.

“It is obvious that the aim is to put the pieces together into a weapon. The only thing missing is a gun barrel and a bolt, so I call for a discussion of the limits on when it counts as a crime,” said Sintéus in an interview with Swedish news programme, Skane.

Image courtesy of Malmö police

The guns were seized in January and February of this year and were later tested, and proved to be working, at the National Forensic Centre.

Police reported finding one of the 3D printed guns during a city-wide criminal sweep, while the other firearm was discovered in a Malmö parking garage.

Both guns are reported to have been constructed in the same way: by disassembling a traditionally made gun, scanning the parts, and re-constructing them via a 3D printer, which are then assembled into a finished weapon.

According to Sintéus engineers performed test firings of the weapons on six different occasions, and can confirm they are indeed in working order. The firearms therefore now qualify as illegal weapons.

Image courtesy of Kamenev

Sintéus’ comments make it pretty obvious that the Malmö police department believe 3D printed guns ought to be restricted in the same way ordinary guns are.

He also noted that while these incidents occurred in Malmö, 3D printed guns are increasingly being used by savvy criminals and the trend was “more common in Europe”.

Like it or not, we are reaching a stage where we will have to legislate for 3D printed guns, as well as their constituent parts.

“It’s not possible to criminalize a 3D printer, but it is nevertheless true that we now have people in the criminal environment that have this kind of weapon,” said Sintéus.

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This is due to the findings of research at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, which found that large, and wholly unexpected, amounts of mutations in muscle stem cells blocks their ability to regenerate cells.

“What is most surprising is the high number of mutations. We have seen how a healthy 70-year-old has accumulated more than 1,000 mutations in each stem cell in the muscle, and that these mutations are not random but there are certain regions that are better protected,” said Maria Eriksson, professor at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at Karolinska Institutet.

With this knowledge, researchers could develop therapies that would encourage such regeneration, and so allow older people to rebuild lost muscle.

“We can demonstrate that this protection diminishes the older you become, indicating an impairment in the cell’s capacity to repair their DNA. And this is something we should be able to influence with new drugs,” explained Eriksson.

The landmark research, which is published today in the journal Nature Communications, involved the use of single stem cells, which were cultivated to provide enough DNA for whole genome sequencing – a medical first for this part of the body.

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While a significant step, the research is now being expanded to look at whether exercise affects the number of mutations – a potentially vital factor in understand why and how these mutations occur.

“We aim to discover whether it is possible to individually influence the burden of mutations. Our results may be beneficial for the development of exercise programmes, particularly those designed for an ageing population,” said Eriksson.

The research is one of a host of projects being conducted across the world that have potential impacts on ageing, an area that was long ignored by much of the scientific community, but is now garnering increased support.

If many – or even a fair minority – of these findings eventually become the basis of therapeutics, it could be transformative for old age in the future, allowing people to remain healthier for far later in life and potentially even leading to longer life expectancies.