8 states sue Trump administration over 3D-printed gun instructions

Eight states are filing suit against the Trump administration over its decision to allow a Texas company to publish downloadable blueprints for a 3D-printed gun, contending the hard-to-trace plastic weapons are a boon to terrorists and criminals, and threaten public safety.

The suit, filed Monday in Seattle, asks a judge to block the federal government's late June settlement with Defence Distributed that allowed the company to make the plans available online. Officials say 1,000 people have already downloaded blueprints 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 Monday. "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 on Monday to withdraw from the settlement with Defence Distributed, saying it "creates an imminent risk to public safety."

President Donald Trump, in a tweet early Tuesday, said he was "looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public" and had already spoken to the NRA about it. Trump said the prospect "doesn't seem to make such sense," though it wasn't clear if he knew that his own State Department had reached a settlement last month with the designer who first published downloadable instructions.

The National Rifle Association, beholden to gun manufacturers, has been relatively silent on the issue, although spokesperson Dana Loesch has hailed the development as an example of American "freedom and innovation."

Trump, for his part, has spoken at the NRA's annual conference in each of his two years as president and has resisted gun control after a number of high-profile mass shootings. Trump proposed the idea of arming teachers after a deadly Florida school shooting in February.

Democrats promise legislation

On the legislative front, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, a Democrat, said early Tuesday he would introduce a bill in the House that would seek to include the weapons in the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, while Senators Chuck Schumer and Ed Markey, both Democrats, have made similar noises of stopping their availability in the market.

In questioning last week at a Senate committee hearing from Markey, who brought up the prospect of terrorist groups making their own weapons based on downloadable instructions, Pompeo said he would commit to investigating the issue. 

People can use the blueprints to manufacture a plastic gun using a 3D printer. But 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.

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

At the time, the NRA voiced its opposition to expanding the Undetectable Firearms Act.

The State Department reversed course in late June, agreeing to allow Wilson to resume posting the blueprints. The files were published on Friday.

The company filed its own suit in Texas on Sunday, asserting it's the victim of an "ideologically fuelled program of intimidation and harassment" that violates the company's First Amendment rights.

The company's lawyer, 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."

Defence Distributed agreed to temporarily block Pennsylvania residents from downloading the plans after state officials went to Federal Court in Philadelphia on Sunday in search of an emergency order. The company said it has also blocked access to users in New Jersey and Los Angeles.

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