Judge Blocks Release of 3D-Printed Gun Blueprints

by | August 28, 2018

By Lewis Kamb

A federal judge in Seattle issued a preliminary injunction Monday against a self-proclaimed "crypto-anarchist," blocking the Texas man from publishing downloadable internet blueprints for producing 3D-printable guns.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik's ruling extends a temporary restraining order he issued on July 31 that prevented Cody Wilson, a 30-year-old Austin, Texas, gun-rights advocate, from publishing the computer files containing the plans for printing the plastic guns on his company's website while a legal dispute over the matter was resolved.

Led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, 19 states along with the District of Columbia joined the lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction, contending that the federal government's decision earlier this year to drop its own five-year litigation against Wilson and allow his company to post the blueprints would have provided broad, unregulated access to dangerous weapons.

"The Court finds that the irreparable burdens on the private defendants' First Amendment rights are dwarfed by the irreparable harms the States are likely to suffer if the existing restrictions are withdrawn and that, overall, the public interest strongly supports maintaining the status quo through the pendency of this litigation," Lasnik wrote in the 25-page ruling.

The U.S. State Department had fought Wilson since 2013 to prevent his nonprofit firm, Defense Distributed, from disseminating the blueprints online, arguing that doing so violated the federal Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which restrict exports of certain weapons.

But in April, the federal agency reversed course, agreeing to settle a lawsuit brought by Wilson that would have allowed his firm to distribute the plans online.

Last week,  Lasnik heard oral arguments from lawyers in the case before expressing his own frustrations that neither President Donald Trump nor Congress had resolved the issue, leaving a decision up to the court.

Assistant Washington Attorney General Jeffrey Rupert argued, among other points, that the State Department's actions to remove all nonautomatic firearms up .50 caliber from the U.S. Munitions List that regulates what weapons can be exported -- which effectively allows for the 3D printable gun blueprint files to be dispersed online -- would cause "irreparable harm."

The action raises public-safety concerns by potentially giving terrorists and other criminals access to undetectable and untraceable firearms, Rupert said. And, because printable guns are plastic and don't set off metal detectors, governments would face the costly burden of updating security methods at airports, courts and other public institutions, he said.

The states also argued the federal government violated multiple statutory requirements, including not giving Congress a required 30-day notice when modifying the munitions list to create an exemption allowing for the 3D printable guns files to be shared online.

Steven Myers, the lawyer representing the State Department, countered that revisions made to the federal munitions list were technical in scope and didn't make substantive changes requiring congressional notice.

If someone actually printed out a 3D plastic gun and used it in a crime, Myers added, such actions wouldn't be the result of the State Department's actions. He noted existing laws now prohibit anyone from manufacturing or possessing 3D-printable guns, which the federal government is "committed to vigorously enforcing."

Wilson's attorney, Chad Flores, also argued that other blueprint files for 3D plastic guns already are available online, and that nothing legally prevents Wilson from disseminating the blueprints through other means, such as through the U.S. mail.

Shortly after Lasnik issued the temporary restraining order in the case last month, President Donald Trump tweeted: "I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn't seem to make much sense!"

The White House later said the Justice Department had struck a deal in the Wilson case without Trump's approval and that the president was "glad this effort was delayed."

But Lasnik, when taking the case under advisement last week, noted no further clarification on the issue came from the federal government's executive or congressional branches, leaving a decision on the matter up to him.

"You know, it's a little bit frustrating to be sitting in this chair as a United States District Court judge and seeing this is an issue that should be solved by the political branches of government," Lasnik said.

(c)2018 The Seattle Times