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Attorneys General in 8 US states sue over 3D gun printers

July 31, 2018

Attorneys General in 8 US states are suing the Trump administration over a decision to allow a company to post plans online on how to build a plastic gun using a 3D printer. Security officials have expressed concerns.

Cody Wilson holds what he calls a Liberator pistol that was completely made on a 3-D-printer
Image: picture-alliance/AP/Austin-American-Statesman/J. Janner

Eight states on Monday filed a suit in Seattle against the Trump administration over its decision to allow a Texas company to publish downloadable blueprints for a 3D-printed gun. The states claim that the hard-to-trace plastic weapons are a boon to terrorists and criminals and are a threat to public safety.

The suit asks a judge to block the federal government's late-June settlement with Defense Distributed. The settlement allowed the company to make the blueprints available online and officials say that 1,000 people have already downloaded plans for AR-15 rifles.

"I have a question for the Trump Administration: Why are you allowing dangerous criminals easy access to weapons?" Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, said in a statement. "These downloadable guns are unregistered and very difficult to detect, even with metal detectors, and will be available to anyone regardless of age, mental health or criminal history." 

Joining the suit were Democratic attorneys general in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Maryland, New York and the District of Columbia.

Separately, attorneys general in 21 states urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withdraw from the settlement with Defense Distributed, saying it "creates an imminent risk to public safety."

1st or 2nd Amendment case?

Defense Distributed, the company making the blueprints available online, filed its own suit in Texas on Sunday, asserting that it is the victim of an "ideologically fueled program of intimidation and harassment" that violates the company's First Amendment rights.

The company's attorney, Josh Blackman, called it an "easy case." States are free to enact gun control measures, but "what they can't do is censor the speech of another citizen in another state, and they can't regulate the commerce of another citizen in another state when that commerce is authorized by a federal government license," Blackman said in an interview Monday. "It's a violation of the First Amendment, it's unconscionable and we're going to fight it to the very end." 

It is not difficult to make a 3D gun. However, gun industry experts have expressed doubt that criminals would go to the trouble, since the printers needed to make the guns are very expensive, the guns themselves tend to disintegrate quickly and traditional firearms are easy to come by.

A 3D printer costs around $2,000 and can be programmed to build objects of almost any shape.  Next week, anyone can make plastic-bodied guns at home for just a few hundred dollars each.

3D printer making a gun
Making gun at home just got easierImage: Imago/Science Photo Library

Security experts have expressed concerns that the plastic guns could evade metal detectors used in public buildings and airports. However, gun enthusiasts say that, without some metal parts, the guns will be unreliable and could even explode in a user's face.

In Germany, Sebastian Fiedler, the acting head of the German police trade union BDK, told the daily Welt on Tuesday that "the use of self-made weapons or making home-made weapons for violence is not new." He added that, "If you make such a weapon, or own such a weapon, you are in violation of the law." 

Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, first published designs for a 3D-printed firearm in 2013. The plans were downloaded about 100,000 times until the State Department ordered him to stop, saying it violated federal export laws since some of the blueprints were downloaded by people outside the United States.

Cody Wilson holding a 3D printed hand gun
Codey Wilson holding a plastic 3D printed handgunImage: picture-alliance/AP/Austin-American-Statesman/J. Janner

The State Department changed its opinion in late June, and agreed to allow Wilson to resume posting the blueprints. The files were published on Friday.

After state officials went to federal court in Philadelphia on Sunday seeking an emergency order, Defense Distributed agreed to temporarily block Pennsylvania residents from downloading the plans.

The company said it also blocked access to users in New Jersey and Los Angeles.

av/rt (AFP, AP, DPA)

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