Almost a year after Defense Distributed successfully test-fired a 3D printed gun known as the Liberator and then posted its blueprints online, the Canadian government is still struggling to understand the new technology.The federal Public Safety Department just openly commissioned a new study for a private contractor to produce an intelligence report on 3D-printed guns and their implications on the manufacturing of firearms, their components, and ammunition. The same call for a report was made last year, but there were no takers and the tender faded into the black hole of government procurement portals.
Cody Wilson fires his 3D-printed, semi-automatic rifle. Image: Motherboard
There’s no stated reason why the study was recommissioned in the tender notice (the first public step in the procurement process), but clearly Public Safety is desperate to understand the emerging technology. The tender notice, posted to a public government procurement portal, suggests the Defense Distributed test-firing incident is the impetus for the study.“Three-dimensional or 3D printing has recently garnered attention, particularly following reports in May 2013 of the successful test firing of a gun fabricated with a 3D printer by the Texas-based company Defense Distributed,” the notice reads.It took two days for the US State Department to force Defense Distributed to pull down online blueprints for the Liberator off of their website. Since then, Congress put an outright ban on all 3D printed guns. Canadian Parliament has no current initiative to ban them.The notice points out that it’s illegal to purchase and possess firearms or commercially produce them without a license in Canada, but “the emergence of 3D printing could transform manufacturing of firearms” and make them, “easily made by individuals and groups.” According to the RCMP, anybody producing 3D printed guns outside of that legal framework is committing a crime.Public Safety wants a list of potential ways law enforcement can prohibit the technology. The tender notice asks for examples of “technological or software controls that could be put on 3D printers to prevent the production of 3D printed guns.”The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Border Services Agency, and the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada are partly funding the study, which is commissioned as part of a wider federal intelligence gathering initiative to counter gun crime and “the illicit movement of firearms.” It’s worth noting Public Safety is the same department overseeing CSIS and the Mounties, and has a vested interest in criminal intelligence.The report would also provide thorough analysis on the evolution of 3D printing technology and perform country comparisons of G8 and Five Eyes nations and their policies toward 3D printed guns. (If you’re not familiar, Five Eyes countries are part of a top-secret intelligence-sharing alliance between America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.)One premise of the tender notice is a fundamental fear of the Internet as a trafficking device for gun software. The notice asks for a report that addresses the “prevalence of the Internet for accessing this technology” and the “the sharing of blueprints” for weapons like the Liberator, which is cited in the tender notice as a popular gun model.When asked why it was commissioned in the first place, Public Safety spokesperson Sabrina Meheš said the department issues studies on a variety of topics to keep, “abreast of current issues and best practices in several fields of study related to our departmental mandate.”