ATF needs to improve tracking system for 3D printed guns, according to report

WASHINGTON — It’s becoming cheaper and easier for people to make guns at home using 3D printing technology and there’s a growing focus on these weapons, dubbed ghost guns.

3D printed guns do not have serial numbers and may not be detected by metal detectors.

A recent report by the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice found the nation’s agency in charge of enforcing federal gun laws needs a better system for tracking the homemade guns.

The OIG report looked at the policies with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) and how it monitors 3D printed weapons.

The report said while ATF “reports that only a limited number of 3-D printed firearms have been used in crimes,” it also doesn’t have a clear system in place for keeping track of the homemade weapons seized from crime scenes.

“ATF does not have standardized procedures to guide how it proactively identifies and evaluates 3-D printed firearms, and to ensure proactive monitoring of this evolving technology,” the report said.

“Without such a method, and without better monitoring, ATF can’t comprehensively analyze emerging trends involving 3D printed firearms and parts,” said Michael Horowitz, Inspector General for the DOJ.

The report also said that ATF does “not have methods to identify data specific to suspected 3-D printed firearms or dedicated channels to communicate 3-D printed firearm information within ATF or externally.”

The report calls for ATF to update its policies and procedures “to include monitoring and evaluating 3-D printed firearms” and to “establish expanded protocols to more effectively collect data on recovered firearms made entirely using 3-D printers and “hybrid” firearms made with a 3-D printed frame or receiver.”

In response to the report, a spokesperson for ATF said: “ATF has long recognized the potential public safety issues associated with Privately Made Firearms and has actively monitored the most common means and methods of producing PMFs, as well as the less prevalent means of production, such as 3-D printing. Challenges continue to exist as the technological advances in additive manufacturing processes will likely decrease the cost while simultaneously increasing the quality of and demand for 3-D printed firearms. ATF agrees that increased monitoring of 3-D printed firearms is appropriate, and we concur with each of the audit’s recommendations.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have debated the extent of the threat of 3D guns, with Democrats and advocates for stricter gun laws calling for Congress to crack down on the use of the homemade firearms.

“They look like guns,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) during a Senate hearing in May 2021. “They shoot like guns. They kill like guns.”

Gun rights supporters, meanwhile, have argued there hasn’t been much federal data pointing to a widespread threat.

“Homemade firearms aren’t any more dangerous than any other firearms,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during the May 2021 hearing.