A federal judge in Seattle will decide Monday whether to block a Texas-based company from making digital blueprints for 3-D printed firearms publicly available online. The legal controversy has sparked a national conversation about the implications of untraceable plastic guns and constitutional rights.
Tuesday’s hearing stems from a lawsuit filed July 30 by eight attorneys general and the District of Columbia against the State Department, which had agreed to allow Defense Distributed to publish an arsenal of firearms blueprints online in a planned settlement.
The states are arguing that the release of 3-D printable designs threatens national security and abridges states’ ability to pass and police gun laws. On July 31, Judge Robert S. Lasnik of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, citing risks to public safety, granted the attorneys general’s request.
“If an injunction is not issued and the status quo alters at midnight tonight, the proliferation of these firearms will have many of the negative impacts on a state level that the federal government once feared on the international stage,” Lasnik said.
Since then, 11 other state attorneys general have joined the battle against the State Department. The states requested a permanent injunction from the court, aiming to permanently ban Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson from posting the 3-D designs on the Internet.
Lasnik is expected to make a final decision by Aug. 27; the current order is in place until the following day.
“We were grateful the court carefully considered our arguments and look forward to the ruling,” said Joshua Blackman, Wilson’s attorney.
Wilson’s critics say his plan could put unregulated and difficult-to-detect weapons in the wrong hands.
The legal battle over weapon-design files dates back to 2013, when Wilson manufactured the first printed handgun; his design, though plastic, used a metal firing pin. Days after Wilson made the blueprints available online, the federal government demanded that he remove the files. Wilson did, then sued the State Department.
According to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, the Justice Department worked with State throughout the multiyear legal battle. DOJ ultimately recommended settling the suit, predicting a loss in court on First Amendment grounds. In June, the federal government entered into an agreement permitting Wilson to publish his firearm blueprints online. He intended to do so Aug. 1.
Hours before he planned to publish, Lasnik stopped him.
To coincide with the hearing, Wilson launched a fundraising campaign on Monday. Consumed by four pending lawsuits, he hopes to raise $400,000 in donations — by credit card, bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash — to support his fight. Roger Ver of Bitcoin Cash, who could not be reached for comment, intends to match contributions, according to Wilson.
“Defense Distributed is a defense contractor, only our contracts aren’t with the state. We contract with the public,” Wilson told The Washington Post, promising to build a new defense-type application if the public funds the litigation. “It’s a statement of disruption. We can develop things that they don’t know they’re mad about yet.”
Last Thursday, the Department of Justice filed a brief accusing the 19 attorneys general of misreading the terms of the department’s settlement with Wilson.
“This case is not about the regulation of U.S. persons who wish to utilize a 3-D printer to manufacture their own small-caliber firearms. Rather, this case concerns the Department of State’s delegated authority to control the export of defense articles and services, or technical data related thereto, that raise military or intelligence concerns,” wrote the department. “The domestic harms about which Plaintiffs are allegedly concerned are not properly regulated by the Department under current law.”
The State Department, which regulates weapons exports, does not have the power to ban dissemination of information to U.S. citizens due to some possibility a person may misuse it, according to court documents.
“Plaintiffs’ allegations of harm are not reasonably attributable to the Department’s regulation of exports, but rather focus on the possibility that third parties will commit violations of the Undetectable Firearms Act or other relevant laws that are not at issue in this case,” wrote the department.
Still, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reiterated that it is illegal to manufacture plastic guns that are undetectable.
“We will not stand for the evasion, especially the flouting, of current law and will take action to ensure that individuals who violate the law by making plastic firearms…
Authored by Sophie Ryan