States Sue Over White House Plans to Loosen 3D-Printed Gun Restrictions

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Accusing the Trump administration of jeopardizing public safety to appease gun lobbyists, 21 attorneys general sued the federal government Thursday over new rules that make it easier to distribute blueprints for 3D-printed guns online.

Under two final rules published by the State Department and Commerce Department Thursday, restrictions will be lifted on the dissemination of “technical data” for 3D-printed guns, including software and technology. Opponents say this will allow people to access 3D-printed firearm designs and print untraceable “ghost guns,” including semi-automatic AR-15s, anywhere on the planet. The rules are scheduled to take effect March 9.

“Loosening the rules on 3D-printed firearms puts lives at risk,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Thursday. “The Trump administration should focus on reducing violence, not making it easier for criminals to get their hands on untraceable and undetectable ghost guns.”

This 2013 plastic pistol was completely made on a 3D-printer at a home in Austin, Texas. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

The Obama administration first cracked down on the distribution of 3D-printed gun technology in 2013 after a Texas-based nonprofit posted files for an untraceable handgun, made up of 15 plastic parts, online. The nonprofit, Defense Distributed, sued the Obama administration in 2015, arguing the restrictions violated its right to free speech on the internet.

In defending against the lawsuit, the Obama administration argued the federal government was “particularly concerned” that the export of “undetectable firearms technology” could be used in an assassinations, enable plastic guns to be smuggled through metal detectors at overseas airports, and allow such weapons to fall into the hands of embargoed nations and terrorist groups.

The Trump administration adopted a different position in June 2018 when it agreed to settle the lawsuit with Defense Distributed by lifting restrictions on the dissemination of downloadable 3D-printed gun files.

That decision triggered a lawsuit brought by 19 states and the District of Columbia. A federal judge in Washington state blocked the new rules from taking effect and later extended the ban with a preliminary injunction in August 2018. The judge found the Trump administration failed to provide an explanation for its “dramatic change of position” or give required notice to Congress before removing the 3D-printed gun designs from its list of regulated munitions.

The two rules published Thursday transfer regulation of 3D-printed gun technology from the State Department to the Commerce Department, which effectively eliminates congressional oversight on the distribution of 3D-printed gun designs.

While the rules maintain restrictions on posting 3D-printed gun blueprints on the internet, they allow such files to be distributed through other means, such as through email, direct file transfer or physical hard drive.

Attorneys general opposing the new rule say this loophole will threaten national security by giving foreign nationals and potentially terrorists access to untraceable weapons.

“A company like Defense Distributed could advertise the availability of its [computer aided design] files on the internet, then email the files directly to any foreign individual or organization that requests them, without ever implicating Commerce’s export-control jurisdiction,” the 99-page complaint states.

The federal lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Washington, further claims the Trump administration lacks adequate evidence to support the loosening of 3D-printed gun restrictions. It says the government did not notify the public about specific changes to regulations of the technology before publishing the final rules. That omission effectively deprives the public of adequate notice and an opportunity to comment as required by the Administrative Procedure Act, the plaintiffs argue.

Representing New York state as lead plaintiff in the case, New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the Trump administration of prioritizing the interests of gun lobbyists over public safety.

“While the president and his administration know these homemade weapons pose an imminent threat, he continues to cater to the gun lobby – risking the lives of millions of Americans,” James said in a statement Thursday.

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to nullify the looser 3D-printed gun restrictions and to keep such regulations under the auspices of the State Department, where congressional oversight is mandated.

In addition to California, Washington state and New York, plaintiffs include Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

The State Department did not immediately return an email seeking comment, and a Commerce Department spokesperson declined to comment.

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