Uncovered in Ohio: Columbus Police Seizes 3D-Printed Ghost Guns in 2023


View a previous report on Columbus’ 2023 crime statistics in the video player above.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As 2024 began, Columbus police highlighted dozens of untraceable, homemade firearms they seized through the course of the past year, but not because the guns themselves are illegal.

The data on 2023 firearm seizures came alongside the Columbus Division of Police reporting that it found an “astronomical” number of illegal Glock switches, which convert the brand of handguns into fully automatic weapons. One of the ways the plastic part was made is 3D printing, Sgt. James Morrow previously told NBC4.

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But beyond individual gun parts, entire firearms churned out from the plastic extruders also turned up in Ohio’s capital city. Because of their lack of an identifying serial number, 3D-printed guns fall under the umbrella of “ghost guns,” which also include guns assembled at home through kits. CPD Sgt. Joe Albert broke down the ghost guns the division seized in 2023 as follows:

Two 3D-printed rifles

Two 3D-printed handguns

Eight rifles built with unfinished parts

31 handguns built with unfinished parts

He noted that none of these amounts included guns that had been defaced, meaning they originally had serial numbers that were removed.

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“Many of them come as parts kits that just require a little filing and the drilling of a couple of holes to complete the assembly,” Albert wrote. “We only document a gun as a ‘ghost gun’ when they have no identifying marks, including serial numbers or they come from companies that we know make parts kits that someone assembles.”

Homemade firearms, whether assembled with a kit or 3D printed, are not inherently illegal in the U.S. at the federal level, or even in Ohio as of Thursday. Instead, ghost guns as a whole simply need to meet certain requirements, such as containing enough metal for detectors to pick them up, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Still, it is completely illegal to sell or transfer privately made, finished guns without a serial number, and the same laws apply that disqualify people such as felons from gun ownership.

“Individuals who make their own firearms may use a 3D printing process or any other process, as long as the firearm is ‘detectable’ as defined in the Gun Control Act,” the ATF wrote. “You do not have to add a serial number or register the PMF if you are not engaged in the business of making firearms for livelihood or profit.”

3D-printed gun seizures also weren’t new to Columbus in 2023. Federal agents arrested an Ohio National Guard member on charges related to making 3D-printed ghost guns in June 2022. Thomas Develin, 26, admitted to making the weapons with the intention to sell them.

The Biden administration has pushed for tighter regulation redefining unfinished gun parts as firearms and requiring them to have serial numbers. Since November, NBC News reported this policy has been left uncertain after being labeled “unlawful” by a federal appeals court.

Laws regulating ghost guns vary at the state level, however. Some nearby, like Illinois, have banned guns without serial numbers, but not 3D printed ones. Others like New York have specifically taken aim at plastic undetectable firearms and banned the making of them altogether, according to Everytown Research and Policy.

Ohio has trended toward relaxing gun regulations since 2022, when Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill for constitutional carry into effect. The City of Columbus has tried to make its own local gun restrictions in the time since, but faced pushback in state courts through 2023.

3DPrint.com has maintained a map showing states that specifically regulate 3D printed guns, or ban ghost guns outright as of December 2023.


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