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The threat of 3D-printed ‘ghost guns’ is rising. Here’s what police say to watch for

Click to play video: 'Police warn parents about 3-D printed weapons'
Police warn parents about 3-D printed weapons
WATCH: Police in B.C. have a warning for parents: If you have a 3-D printer, make sure your children aren't using it to print weapons. Christa Dao reports – Jul 11, 2023

Police in British Columbia issued a warning Tuesday about what they say is a growing threat posed by 3D-printed guns.

According to the gang-focused Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC), legal 3D printers can be used to craft up to 80 per cent of a working firearm with easy to access online data files.

Click to play video: '3D printed guns seized in major RCMP operation'
3D printed guns seized in major RCMP operation

The remaining 20 per cent of the gun can be completed with parts such as barrels, firing pins and triggers that can also often be purchased legally.

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Sometimes referred to as “ghost guns” because of their inability to be traced, privately-made firearms (PMFs) are growing in popularity with organized crime and gangs, according to police.

“Modern technology is moving firearms alterations and manufacturing into the mainstream, and we all have a role to play in terms of recognizing risks and prevention,” Assistant Commissioner Manny Mann, officer in charge of CFSEU-BC told a press briefing.

“We encourage everyone to take time learning about privately made firearms, especially if you already have a 3D printer in your home or are considering purchasing one.”

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg police, Border Services arrest man accused of making, selling 3D-printed ‘ghost guns’'
Winnipeg police, Border Services arrest man accused of making, selling 3D-printed ‘ghost guns’

Mann pointed to the CFSEU-BC’s participation in a recent national operation led by the Surete du Quebec targeting privately-made firearms that led to 45 arrests across Canada, along with the seizure of 440 firearms — both traditional and 3D-printed — and 52 3D printers as a warning sign.

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CFSEU Insp. Joel Hussey said the rise of 3D-printed guns is a global phenomenon, and that between 2020 and 2021 the number of PMFs seized in the U.S. jumped from 8,500 to 19,000.

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“In Canada we haven’t seen huge seizures but it is trending upwards,” he said.

“For example, in Canada the number of PMFs in 2021 were just shy of 200, and in 2022 it rose to 500. So it gives you an idea.”

He said police in B.C. are encouraging the owners of 3D printers, including businesses and especially parents, to be aware they can be turned to nefarious uses.

Click to play video: 'Police in Alberta face disturbing new challenge with increase of ‘ghost guns’'
Police in Alberta face disturbing new challenge with increase of ‘ghost guns’

Parents, he said, should monitor what their kids are making and review all programs they download and parts they print to ensure they aren’t making real or replica weapons.

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One concern is the fact that 3D printing technology can create both real, functional guns that look like toys. At the same time, the tools can be used to create replica guns that look real.

Staff Sgt. Baltej Dhillon, program manager for the Crime Guns Intelligence and Investigations Group, said that capacity to produce replica guns is also a major concern for police.

“We become very alive to the fact that this creates a greater risk and a threat to public safety, and in particular for young people who may not understand all the risks associated with downloading what may look like an inert, or toy-type item,” he said.

“Bringing a printed polymer plastic firearm to the airport or to school or to an event may bring about all kind of responsive reaction that may not end well.”

Click to play video: 'Onoway one of several communities involved in Canada-wide operation'
Onoway one of several communities involved in Canada-wide operation

Dhillon said police must always treat something that looks like a real gun as if it is one, and added that using a replica weapon in the commission of any crime remains illegal under the criminal code.

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Police are urging parents and 3D printer owners to be aware of the risks, and keep the following tips in mind to reduce the chance they can be used to make weapons:

  • Know what you, your children, students or employees are printing
  • Be aware of blueprints that are easily accessible online but are clearly identifiable as firearms plans
  • Do not produce 3D-printed parts for others

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