CBP: 3-D-printed full-auto rifle seized at Lukeville crossing
Among a stash of firearms intercepted during outbound inspections in Lukeville, Arizona on Saturday was a semi-automatic assault rifle modified with a 3-D printed receiver, allowing the weapon to fire in full automatic mode, authorities said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers arrested Julian Higuera, 26, a U.S. citizen from Phoenix, after they discovered two rifles based on the AR-15, along with three handguns, and an assortment of ammunition and magazines in his 2006 Buick just before he crossed into Mexico.
Upon further inspection, officers discovered that the lower receiver of one of the weapons —the part of the weapon that holds the stock, ammunition magazine, grip, and firing chamber together—had been produced in plastic on a 3-D printer, said Garret Reinhart, the port's chief of staff.
This modification allows the weapon — which was manufactured as a semi-automatic — to shoot fully automatically, firing bullets so long as the trigger is held down.
The second rifle was also modified to fire full-auto, but not with a 3-D printed receiver, said Reinhart.
Modifying a weapon to fire full-auto is illegal under federal firearms laws, as is transporting firearms and ammunition into Mexico.
The seizure comes just a week after Mexican federal police and U.S. authorities knocked down a cartel cell running drug and human smuggling routes just across Lukeville in Sonoyta, Sonora.
The cross-border operation included Mexican helicopters that flew over the border into Sonoyta from a base in the United States. During the raid two cartel members were killed when they fired on Mexican authorities, and another 22 men were arrested.
Wired magazine reported last June that Defense Distributed, a gun-access advocacy group known for producing the first 3-D printed pistol, was selling a computer-driven mill capable of carving the receiver out of aluminum. The $1,500 machine, called the Ghost Gunner, could be used to build the essential part, allowing someone to build an "untraceable" weapon.
There are other methods available to modify an AR-15 to become fully automatic, including gun vendors that make an "80 percent lower," a metal part that can be drilled out to complete a rifle component.
A semi-automatic AR-15, or one of dozens of derivatives sold by several different gun manufacturers, can be legally purchased in Arizona. Many of those weapons have ended up in Mexico in the hands of cartel gunmen.
According to the Government Accountability Office, at least 15 percent of the weapons seized in Mexico and traced to U.S gun shops came from Arizona.
And, the GAO said that smugglers are increasingly turning to smuggling parts of weapons, including buttstocks, receivers, barrels and other parts for assembly and modification in Mexico.
Gun smuggling was the focus of Operation Fast and Furious, a botched "gun-walking" sting designed to track the transfer of weapons from U.S. straw purchasers to cartel leaders.
However, poor planning by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms resulted in the loss of nearly 1,700 firearms.
This includes a .50 caliber sniper rifle found during the re-arrest of Sinaloa cartel leader,Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman on Jan. 8.
Reinhart said that CBP works with Mexican customs, and other U.S. agencies to stop firearms smuggling. "As a result, these weapons will not make it into the hands of people seeking to cause harm upon our society," he said.