Techno-polymers in Firearms Manufacturing
Challenges and Implications for Marking, Record-Keeping, and Tracing
Published in: Behind the Curve: New Technologies, New Control Challenges / edited by Benjamin King and Glenn McDonald (Geneva, Switzerland: Small Arms Survey, Feb. 2015), Occasional paper 32, Chapter 1, p. 5-22
Posted on rand.org May 1, 2015
Over the last three decades, the arms industry has been characterized by a transition from metal to polymers in the manufacture of an increasing number of firearm parts and components--a trend that shows no signs of abating. Motivated to improve performance and to reduce costs, the industrial sector, including the arms industry, continues to prioritize research and development on new materials. Despite this development, the intrinsic differences between metal and polymers, and the related technical challenges for marking them, were overlooked when the UN Firearms Protocol and the International Tracing Instrument (ITI) were negotiated. To date, these agreements represent the only international instruments providing specific indications--either as requirement or as recommendation--on firearm marking, record-keeping, and tracing. Yet the oversight regarding an established industrial trend poses important challenges to the implementation of key provisions of these instruments. This paper provides an overview of the key elements related to the use of industrial polymers in arms manufacturing, highlighting the challenges that such materials pose to the effective implementation of the ITI and the Firearms Protocol. Although several firearms parts and components are often manufactured with one or more types of polymer, this paper focuses on polymer frames and receivers as they typically bear unique markings that are critical for the unique identification of a weapon.