The era of the untraceable, undetectable, 3D-printed guns is almost upon us, and it’s not going to respect international borders. That’s the concern critics are raising ahead of a recent U.S. ruling allowing plans for a plastic pistol to be posted online for anyone to download and print. So should we be worried here in Canada?
With that in mind, 3D ghost guns are essentially firearms assembled from ABS plastic parts — the same material found in Legos — that can be made or printed with a 3D printer. The 3D printer just follows the shape of the model by stacking layer upon layer of plastic or other material to make the objects. They are considered ghost guns because they are don’t have serial numbers making them untraceable and undetectable using current scanners or metal detectors. And it now looks as if people are able to make them using the current 3D printing technology available.
Researchers at the University of Toronto successfully printed their own version of the controversial gun in 2013, but kept it under lock and key and never fired it.
Also, an anonymous individual from Canada, claimed to have made the first 3D-printed plastic rifle in August of 2013. He fired 14 rounds in a YouTube demonstration at the time, which has since been removed.
And just recently in the news, a guy by the name of Cody Wilson, who has become the poster boy for homemade weapons and who sued the US government back in 2015, won a landmark case that allowed the blueprints for Wilson’s gun — along with several other weapons — to legally be posted online. He was later forced to remove it but not before it was downloaded over 100,00 times.
Gun safety advocates argue these “ghost guns” present an attractive option for terrorists and criminals, because they can be smuggled through metal detectors into sensitive areas such as airports and schools. They’re also untraceable because they don’t have serial numbers.
Now that said, these ghost guns are not that reliable when firing. The plastic components are known to melt after firing a bullet and the printers to used to print them would be somewhat unreliable unless you used a more high-end expensive printer and special plastic. At this point, it would be cheaper to build a gun from scratch using materials from a hardware store then to use a 3D printer. But I’m sure that will change eventually, once the cost of printers and materials goes down.
Law enforcement agencies around the world have been trying to catch up to the potential threat of 3D-printed guns. The weapons currently fall into a grey area in most countries, because they haven’t been a major factor up until this point.
The RCMP said back in 2013 that anyone caught firing a 3D-printed weapon without a proper gun licence would face charges.
The Canadian government put out a request for proposals to study the issue further in 2014, but it’s unclear if that study was ever carried out.
So I think while 3D-printed firearms are more of a novelty now — too expensive to make and too fragile to be used reliably — technology will soon catch up. Metal based 3D printing will change all of this. I think it might be extremely difficult to regulate who has access to these new high quality printers, and what files they download off the internet. There will come a time when a 3D printed gun is used in a major crime, and at that point, you will know we have entered into a future in which will need new, comprehensive laws, that will keep up with our changing technology.