Defense Distributed’s 3D printed gun, The Liberator. Photo by Vvzvlad/Wikimedia Commons

Defense Distributed’s 3D printed gun, The Liberator. Photo by Vvzvlad/Wikimedia Commons

Washington Leads Legal Challenge Banning Access to 3D Printed Guns

The AG’s office plans to file a lawsuit blocking a website from disseminating digital firearm files.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday that he would spearhead a multistate legal challenge against the Trump administration for allowing the unlimited dissemination of 3D printed guns. The weapons are composed mostly of plastic, can’t be traced, don’t require background checks, and go undetectable in airport security.

The lawsuit filed Monday afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington argues that the administration’s June 29 settlement allowing the public to print 3D firearms violates the Tenth Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act, which regulates rule-making processes. A legal challenge cited the lack of evidence that the U.S. Department of Defense approved of the decision, or that Congress was given 30 days’ notice. The settlement resolved a 2015 lawsuit filed by Defense Distributed—an open-source organization that distributes digital firearm blueprints—which sought to overturn the U.S. State Department’s ban on downloadable instruction manuals for developing digital firearms.

Ferguson’s office also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent the federal government from lifting control over the distribution of the instruction manuals, and to stop Defense Distributed from posting downloadable gun files online, as the Texas company plans to do on August 1. In a prescient note on its website, Defense Distributed announced: “The age of the downloadable gun formally begins.” Maryland, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and New York joined the lawsuit.

In a swift action, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik placed a temporary restraining order blocking the release of downloadable firearm blueprints on July 31. The original restraining order was set to last for 14 days (with a preliminary injunction on Aug. 10), but on Fri., Aug. 3, Lanik extended the temporary restraining order to Aug. 28, and scheduled the preliminary injunction hearing for Tuesday, Aug. 21st at 9 a.m.

The legal quagmire began in 2013 when the State Department ordered Cody Wilson, the owner of Defense Distributed, to stop posting online manuals for building 3D printed guns. In its order, the U.S. State Department cited Wilson’s possible violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulation, which controls the export of military technology. Wilson sued the federal government two years later, but the lawsuit remained in litigation until last month. Several jurisdictions, including the City of Los Angeles and New Jersey, have sought injunctions against the website from making blueprints available to their residents following the June settlement. On Sunday, Pennsylvania successfully blocked Defense Distributed from sharing digital firearm files online in the Commonwealth. Unlike the other challenges, the federal lawsuit set to be filed Monday would trigger a nationwide temporary restraining order.

At a press conference on Monday, AG Ferguson argued that allowing the public to digitally manufacture weapons goes beyond disagreements in policy. “Honestly for God’s sake, when it comes to something as basic as public safety, our State Department has said this is a giveaway to terrorists,” Ferguson said. He expressed faith that the lawsuit would be successful, citing the office’s 7-0 track record of winning lawsuits filed against the Trump administration.

Renée Hopkins, CEO for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said at the Monday press conference that an injunction is needed on digital files for 3D printed guns, which would “completely undermine our system.”

“It would make our state less safe, put Washingtonians in more danger, and make it much harder for law enforcement to determine the origin of guns used in crimes,” Hopkins said. According to Public Health Seattle and King County, 130 deaths people die annually from gun violence in the county.

At the press conference, Mayor Jenny Durkan stressed the likelihood of undetectable and untraceable firearms flooding the market if the state doesn’t prevent it. While she was a U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, the digital manufacturing of firearms plagued the Obama administration: “On a scale of 1 to 10 of things we worried about, this is an 8 or a 9,” she said.

Seattle’s Chief of Police Carmen Best noted that over 700 guns have already been removed from the city’s streets this year. “If people have the ability to download these guns arbitrarily, the danger to the public is going to be so immense, it’s beyond what I can even describe here today,” Best said.

Defense Distributed put the files online a few days earlier than advertised on July 27, and 1,000 people had already downloaded the plans for creating semi-automatic assault rifles by Sunday, according to the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “We are working as fast as we can,” said Washington Assistant Attorney General Jeff Rupert. “This company has put forth a number of models that were previously known, but there could be an infinite number of additional ones that nobody downloaded so far. So we’re trying to monitor what it is.”

Update (July 31): A district court has temporary blocked the release of downloadable firearm blueprints.

Update (Aug 3): The temporary restraining order has been extended to Aug. 28, and the preliminary injunction hearing is now scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 21st at 9 a.m.

mhellmann@seattleweekly.com

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