Upcoming Conference | 2019 Re-Wire Policy Conference, Dec 10, 2019 Register

Washington wins order preventing posting of 3D-printed gun plans

Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed his 32nd lawsuit against the Trump Administration on Monday challenging the administration’s policy that would allow the posting and sharing of plans to make usable guns with ordinary 3D-printers. Washington is joined in the suit by seven states and the District of Columbia.

At the heart of the lawsuit are fundamental questions about the government’s ability to regulate firearms for public safety, including those non-commercially built, versus First Amendment freedom of speech concerns. The state contends that Defense Distributed, an internet company that has posted designs for 3D-printed guns on their website, should not be allowed to post the plans because they would violate the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which regulates the export of defense materials, services, and technical data. Essentially, posting the plans on the internet could allow download and transfer of the plans to countries to whom the US doesn’t want to sell arms.

In 2015, Defense Distributed was told to take down the plans due to the violation and national security concerns and the company sued invoking the First Amendment. In a reversal of policy, the Trump Administration recently entered into a settlement that would waive export restrictions on Defense Distributed’s downloadable gun files enabling the company to re-post the plans and prompting Washington’s lawsuit.

3D-printed guns are made out of plastic with very few metal parts that are often removable. The undetectable nature of these guns may make them particularly attractive to terrorists or other people we would like to keep guns out of the hands of for national security reasons.  In defending the 2015 lawsuit, the federal government explained it was,

“particularly concerned that [the] proposed export of undetectable firearms technology could be used in an assassination, for the manufacture of spare parts by embargoed nations, terrorist groups, or to compromise aviation security overseas in a manner specifically directed at U.S. persons.”

Defense Distributed argues that this is a simple First Amendment question. They do not make or sell, possess, or export the guns, they merely post the code. Distribution of the information is very different, they say, from distributing a firearm.

When filing the lawsuit on Monday, AG Ferguson asked the court for an emergency restraining order “to avoid immediate and irreparable harm to the States and the nation.” On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik granted the order, which at least temporarily prevents the re-posting of the plans. Several state and local officials praised the order and its safety implications. AG Ferguson said in a statement,

“Once again, my office had to hold this Administration accountable to the rule of law. I am thankful and relieved Judge Lasnik put a nationwide stop to the Trump Administration’s dangerous decision to allow downloadable, 3D-printed ghost guns to be distributed online. These ghost guns are untraceable, virtually undetectable and, without today’s victory, available to any felon, domestic abuser or terrorist. I hope the President does the right thing and directs his administration to change course.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan also released a statement in support of the decision.

“Creating an unlicensed gun with a 3D-printer should not be a ‘do-it-yourself’ download available to anyone.  As a former federal prosecutor, I know untraceable and unregulated 3D-printed guns present a real danger to the residents of Seattle. Because of Attorney General Ferguson’s lawsuit, a federal judge has put this administration’s dangerous plan on hold and has taken a responsible step to protect law enforcement, public safety, and our national security.”

Finally, Governor Jay Inslee also affirmed the lawsuit.

“It is deeply concerning that anyone could have the ability to create untraceable and potentially undetectable deadly weapons. We must do whatever we can to keep criminals from acquiring and creating these guns. The Attorney General’s actions today are an important step in developing common sense gun measures that will help to protect public safety.”