You won't be able to print weapons from home anytime soon. Illustration by/Danny Braverman
You won't be able to print weapons from home anytime soon. Illustration by/Danny Braverman

Three-D gun printing in Canada is nothing to worry about, despite widespread anxiety on the subject. The Criminal Code is strict about gun control, 3D printers are super-expensive, and the ability to create weapons at home using legal materials is an old problem.


In May, 2013, non-profit digital firearm publisher Defense Distributed launched Wiki-Weapons Project, which released free digital blueprints for 3D gun printing. In the surrounding controversy, many feared the inherent threat of 3D printers and “homemade” guns.


Critical Making Lab, a shared space at UofT’s Faculty of Information that focuses on the social implications of new technologies chose to engage with the project. Using a $60 000 printer, the lab created their own version of “The Liberator,” a single-shot pistol posted online by Defense Distributed. Using a softer resin and creating a built-in cap, the lab’s Liberator was made to prevent real bullets from being loaded and fired.

 

“We don’t believe that the device we printed this summer can accurately be called a firearm,” said the Critical Making Lab. “It is not capable of discharging ‘any shot, bullet or other projectile’ or of ‘causing serious bodily injury or death to a person,’” two crucial components in the Criminal Code.

 

“Something that looks like a gun but doesn’t have the muzzle velocity to be considered a firearm,” is federally controlled in Canada, explained Lorne Sabsay criminal defense and civil litigation lawyer.  The attitudes of Canadians aside, the law defines a firearm by what it does, not by how it is created.

 

In light of recent shootings in the United States, such as the Washington Naval Yard and Newton, advocates of stricter gun control have brought 3D gun printing to the forefront of a North American political debate. The lack of a constitutional right to bear arms, compounded with a much smaller pro-gun culture in Canada renders such a debate, in the Canadian context, largely unnecessary.  


“The bottom line is: unless someone is properly licensed to possess firearms, then the mere possession is illegal [in Canada],” said Sabsay.


From a cost-benefit standpoint, 3D gun printing is not optimal. Purchasing guns on the black market is more cost efficient, according to Nelson Wiseman, a UofT professor of Canadian politics. Most 3D printers cost tens of thousands of dollars; purchasing a firearm along the notorious “US-Toronto gun pipeline” along Interstate 75 is much more cost-effective.


The pipeline is a major gun trafficking root, the source of 70 per cent of all guns used in Toronto crime. If one is concerned about the proliferation of firearms in Canada, then the threat from 3D printers pales in comparison to already existing threat of the gun trading black market. In March of 2010, over 250 charges were laid in a major police bust, seizing guns originally from Kentucky, as well as cocaine and marijuana. Last month, 400 charges were laid in response to recent criminal activity in Scarborough’s east end, including guns, drugs, and homicide.


Driving down the I-75 to purchase inexpensive firearms at American gun shows to smuggle back into Toronto has become a lucrative underground market. I-75 Gun & Pawn in Byron, Georgia, a convenient gun dealer on the pipeline, is open six days a week, selling name brands like Remingtons, Colts, and Smith & Wessons.


The advent of 3D gun printing isn’t the first time North Americans have had the ability to produce dangerous weapons. Timothy McVeigh’s destructive homemade bomb used in the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 killed 168 people, leaving several hundred more wounded.

 

“The precursors to make huge bombs from fertilizer and nitrogen…[are] tools that anyone can buy,” explained Sabsay.The end products are illegal, but the ingredients in making it aren’t.

 

The downloadable instructions from Defense Distributed are the same in this respect.

 

“Because of our strong restrictions on the manufacture of firearms, laws specific to the use of 3D printers for the manufacture of guns would be redundant,” noted Critical Making Lab. Just as restrictions on fertilizer, diesel fuel, and pseudoephedrine would interfere with the sale of common household items, the needless regulation of 3D printing would be an impediment to technological development.


A federal initiative funded by the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, and Criminal Intelligence Service Canada is currently researching the potential threat of 3D gun printing. The study aims to investigate software and Internet sharing controls, and their political and security related consequences. In a country where the possession of both firearms and imitation firearms is heavily regulated, however, 3D gun printing will not require any large changes to be made to the Canadian legal landscape. So unlike our southern neighbor, gun control policy adjustments and fear of the 3D printer are unnecessary in Canada.

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