3D-printer gun plans proliferate online despite court action
By CHUCK LINDELL | Austin American-Statesman | Published: August 3, 2018
AUSTIN, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Instructions for making guns on a 3D printer are no longer available on an Austin company’s website, but the plans have been copied and republished on other parts of the internet, raising questions about the effectiveness of a federal judge’s order that blocked access to the files.
Defense Distributed, founded by Cody Wilson of Austin, shut down access to the gun blueprints shortly after U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik of Seattle issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday afternoon, company lawyer Josh Blackman said Thursday.
However, the files had been available since July 27 and were downloaded thousands of times and reposted in “countless other places — I don’t even know where,” Blackman said.
“I argued to the judge on Tuesday that there’s no irreparable harm because the files are out there and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The judge wasn’t persuaded by that argument,” Blackman told the American-Statesman.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence criticized what it called extremist groups for reposting the do-it-yourself plans, citing the danger of promoting difficult-to-detect plastic firearms that would lack a serial number and therefore be untraceable.
“It means that we’re all at greater risk,” said Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign. “What they are doing is dangerous. It is reckless. It is obviously an attempt to get around the judge’s temporary restraining order, and it undermines the gun laws of the United States and every country of the world.”
Lasnik issued the restraining order at the request of Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Democratic officials from seven other states and the District of Columbia who argued that releasing the 3D-printer gun plans would aid terrorists and criminals, providing a serious threat to national security and public safety.
The judge’s order temporarily blocked the federal government from enforcing an agreement between Defense Distributed and the U.S. State Department — finalized on July 27 — that removed government objections to the distribution of the gun blueprints.
An Aug. 10 hearing in Seattle will determine whether the restraining order should be converted into a longer-term preliminary injunction.
“I am thankful and relieved Judge Lasnik put a nationwide stop to the Trump administration’s dangerous decision to allow downloadable, 3D-printed ghost guns to be distributed online,” Ferguson said. “I hope the president does the right thing and directs his administration to change course.”
White House review
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was looking into the issue of making “3D plastic guns” available to the public, adding that it “doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
A day later, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump was happy that “this effort was delayed to give more time to review the issue,” adding that the deal with Defense Distributed was made without the president’s approval.
Blackman said he and Wilson are watching to see if Trump cancels the State Department agreement, which settled a 5-year-old lawsuit by Defense Distributed, Wilson and the Second Amendment Foundation by providing two concessions:
• A license allowing for the “unlimited distribution” of 3D-printer gun blueprints by Wilson and Defense Distributed.
• An acknowledgement that “any United States person” can access, use and reproduce the plans for 3D-printed guns.
Wilson had announced that his website would make the blueprints available to the public on the first day of August, only to change his mind once he had the State Department settlement in hand on July 27 and the first lawsuits to block publication were filed, Blackman said.
“Cody planned to beef up marketing for a few days to get things ready, but he jumped the gun once all this litigation started happening. We posted quickly, and the files were in the public domain for a good five days — perfectly legal,” Blackman said.
“You had a safe harbor for five days. We beat the man for five days, we were able to receive all these instructions for five days, but on the fifth day we lost, and that safe harbor is now gone,” he said.
Other than Wilson and Defense Distributed, the judge’s restraining order does not directly stop anybody from posting the 3D-printer gun plans online. However, by removing that safe harbor, “people who post this risk a violation of federal law,” Blackman said. “Now, who knows? The government has never prosecuted anyone for this.”
With the 3D-printer gun instructions proliferating on the internet, efforts must shift to containing the damage, said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who co-sponsored the Untraceable Firearms Act that was filed Tuesday. The bill would require 3D-printed guns to include a serial number for easier tracking and metal components to make them easier to spot using scanners or metal detectors.
“Our bill is a first draft, which will no doubt evolve during the legislative process, and which we are urging to get underway immediately. Meanwhile, we are hopeful that the federal court order from Seattle will maintain some temporary, partial relief,” Doggett said.
Gardiner with the Brady Campaign said she was skeptical about the ability to overcome Republican opposition to legislation seen as restricting gun rights.
“I’m not optimistic that sensible proposals to stop the 3D printing of guns are going to go anywhere fast with this Congress,” she said.
Instead, the Brady Campaign called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue cease-and-desist letters to websites that republished the 3D-printer gun plans — similar to action the department took against Wilson and Defense Distributed in 2013, when it blocked publication of the blueprints as a violation of federal law governing the export of military weapons.
©2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.