Appeals court declines to revive lawsuit supporting 3-D printed guns

A federal appeals court has declined to revive a lawsuit filed by Austin-based Defense Distributed that sought to allow publication of plans to build the Liberator, a gun with plastic parts made on a 3-D printer.


By CHUCK LINDELL | Austin American-Statesman | Published: January 22, 2020

In the continuing fight over the legality of publishing schematics for making mostly plastic guns on 3-D printers, a federal appeals court has rejected efforts to revive a lawsuit that sought to allow distribution of the do-it-yourself plans.

That lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 after the U.S. State Department, which enforces federal law on exporting military weaponry, ordered Austin-based Defense Distributed to remove from its website plans for building the Liberator, a 3-D printed single-shot pistol.

Defense Distributed dismissed its lawsuit in 2018 after the State Department, under President Donald Trump, agreed to allow the plans to be published.

However, the company moved to revive that lawsuit after publication was again blocked — this time by a federal judge in Seattle. Responding to a lawsuit by Washington and 18 other states, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik issued a restraining order blocking the State Department agreement in 2018, then followed with a November 2019 ruling that voided the agreement.

Lasnik said the policy change was not reported to Congress as required by federal law. He also said the administration failed to offer any justification for changing a policy that banned the publication of schematics for 3-D printed guns as "a threat to world peace and the security and foreign policy of the United States."

Guns made on 3-D printers lack identifying serial numbers, are virtually impossible to detect and could make firearms available to those who are prohibited from owning or using guns, Lasnik said.

After a Texas judge declined to revive Defense Distributed's lawsuit, the company — joined by the Second Amendment Foundation — appealed.

In a ruling released Tuesday evening, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court, saying Defense Distributed cited a rule that allows a judgment to be altered or amended only to correct an error of law or present newly discovered evidence.

"It does not allow a party to revive and initiate further proceedings in a dismissed lawsuit," Judge James Ho wrote for the appeals court's three-judge panel.

Ho rejected arguments that the lawsuit should be revived because Defense Distributed could not have foreseen the Washington lawsuit and the resulting nationwide injunction issued by Lasnik.

"Plaintiffs are undoubtedly sincere in their belief that the government interfered with their constitutional rights by forbidding them from publishing information about assembling the Liberator firearm to fellow citizens," Ho wrote. "But established rules of civil procedure do not permit this court to grant the relief they seek here."

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