Sunday, October 17, 2021

Manufacturing firearms with 3D printers: a threat to public safety

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Inside a small apartment last year in West Virginia, prosecutors said Timothy John Watson operated an online retailer named “Portable Wall Hanger.” But they say it was just “a front,” and Watson was actually selling “machine gun conversion devices,” which allow rifles to fire multiple shots with just one press of the trigger.

On top of that, court records allege Watson sold to people associated with the Boogaloo movement. They say “they are preparing for, or seek to incite, a second American Civil War,” according to the documents.

Authorities accuse Watson of making those devices with a 3D printer. Newly manufactured machine guns are illegal and the government accuses Watson of “Unlawfully Engaging in the Business of Manufacturing” them.

In court, Watson’s attorney said the West Virginia man is not a violent extremist and the devices he sold were in fact to be used as wall hangers.

Watson pled guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm silencer charge, but his lawyer said he still can’t talk to WUSA9 because he is awaiting sentencing. At that hearing in October, the feds plan to ask for a higher sentence because of the manufacturing and transferring allegations.

Timothy John Watson remains in jail in West Virginia.

The ATF told WUSA9 this case is believed to be one of the first federal prosecutions and forfeitures of 3D-printed firearms and accessories. Law enforcement is now working to figure out how big of a problem 3D-printed firearms are and prevent them from getting into the hands of criminals.

“Once those 3D-printed firearms are made, they’re firearms,” Charlie Patterson, who is the new special agent in charge of the Washington Field Division for the ATF, said. “Those firearms are being recovered as we speak and are being used in violent crimes in cities.”

According to federal law, people who build their own firearms may use 3-D printing, as long as the firearm has some kind of material, like metal, making it “detectable.”In order to sell them, you have to have a federal firearms license. It’s not just federal authorities seeing 3D-printed weapons. The DC Department of Forensic Sciences released a photo of a 3D-printed gun frame police confiscated.


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