3D printer guns to be studied by federal officials

The federal department of public safety is commissioning a study to look into the emergence of 3D printers that can easily manufacture guns without any kind of licensing control.
Canada's department of public safety is commissioning a study to look at the advent of 3D technology and the feasibility of easily-crafted firearms and ammunition. (Defense Distributed)

The federal Public Safety Department is worried about the emergence of three-dimensional printers that can easily manufacture guns without any kind of licensing control.

The department is commissioning a study that will look at the advent of 3D technology and the feasibility of crafting firearms, parts and ammunition.

It is also interested in possible technological solutions that could be applied to such printers to prevent them from making guns.

U.S. ordered website to pull blueprints

In May, the U.S. government made headlines when it ordered a Texas-based website to remove blueprints for using a 3D printer to manufacture a handgun.

Files for the "Liberator" gun were quickly downloaded more than 100,000 times, prompting concern in Washington and state capitals, the Public Safety Department notes.

The possibility of cheaply produced firearms has also stirred concern in Europe. Aside from the fact the newfangled printers could allow someone to make a weapon in their basement, the fact the guns can be constructed from non-traditional materials, such as plastic, have sparked fears they could slip through airport security checkpoints undetected.

The Public Safety Department recently issued a call for a contractor to carry out a study on the budding phenomenon with an eye to receiving a final report by next March.

The notice points out that legal possession of a firearm in Canada requires a licence and, in the case of handguns and other restricted guns, a registration certificate. In addition, a firearms business licence is needed to manufacture a gun.

Price of 3D printers has dropped

While 3D printers have been around for some time, their price has dropped to between $1,500 and $5,000, making them more accessible. The machines rely on computer software to fashion everything from airplane parts to human bones, all to exacting specifications.

"The emergence of 3D printing could transform manufacturing of firearms such that firearms could be more easily made by individuals and groups," the notice says.

"As 3D printing technology becomes more available and refined, there is a need to examine its implications for the manufacture of firearms, their components and ammunition."

Study co-funded by RCMP, Public Safety and CBSA

The study is being funded through a federal initiative aimed at improving the collection, analysis and sharing of firearms-related intelligence and information. It involves Public Safety partners the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada.

The research will trace the historical evolution of 3D technology and the accessibility of software and materials involved in making guns. It will also look at the international context, comparing the policies of police, policy officials and lawmakers in different countries on both the legal and illicit manufacturing of firearms.

The department also wants the authors to explore technological or "software controls that could be put on 3D printers to prevent the production of 3D printed guns."

Role of internet to be examined

In addition, the researchers are expected to examine the role of the Internet in sharing blueprints and other requirements for making 3D guns, as well as stake out unanswered questions about the legal, political, national security and economic dimensions of the futuristic firearms.

Bidders have until Nov. 27 to express interest in the project..


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?