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Washington judge issues temporary ban on posting of 3D-printable guns

Cody Wilson shows the first completely 3D-printed handgun, The Liberator, at his home in Austin, Texas on Friday May 10, 2013. (Jay Janner/Austin American-State/TNS)
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Amid a national outcry and a spate of legal challenges, a federal judge in Washington state issued a restraining order late Tuesday that effectively blocked the Texas group that planned to publicly post files that would enable people to make 3D-printable guns.

Acting in a lawsuit joined by attorneys general in several states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Judge Robert S. Lasnik temporarily suspended the State Department decision that allowed the group, Defense Distributed, to post the files, the Washington state attorney general said. It came less than a day before the nonprofit said it would unleash “the new era of downloadable guns” via its website.

An hour earlier, Defense Distributed had agreed not to upload any new files until a court hearing next month in New Jersey, officials said, but files already posted on the nonprofit’s website were allowed to stay. The Washington decision would apply to all files, and all computers nationwide, by blocking the federal settlement that permitted Defense Distributed to disseminate the “blueprints” for the 3D-printable guns.

Coming one day before Defense Distributed intended to release a new batch of printable gun files, the New Jersey agreement was lauded by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal as “a big victory for public safety and law enforcement safety.”

As activists and lawmakers sought to intervene earlier Tuesday, arguing that public access to the files posed a national security threat, President Donald Trump weighed in on the topic and his State Department defended its decision to end a yearslong legal battle to block Defense Distributed from sharing the files.

Wilson has framed the debate as a First Amendment issue, arguing that the right to free speech allows him to publish the code that creates the guns.

“Americans have the right to this data,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News on Sunday. “We have the right to share it.”

Lawmakers this week had called on Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to reverse the government settlement last month with Wilson that allowed him to post the files.

But on Tuesday the administration doubled down on its decision to allow the gun downloads. In a response to the Washington state lawsuit that seeks to suspend the settlement, they said the Department of State lacks the jurisdiction to regulate the downloads because they involve “defense articles and services, or technical data related thereto, to U.S. persons on U.S. soil.”

Trump himself joined the issue with a Tuesday morning tweet that the idea of 3D-printable guns “doesn’t seem to make much sense!” He said he also had spoken to the National Rifle Association but didn’t elaborate.

Wilson had fought the federal government for years for the right to put “blueprints” for 3D guns online. The State Department had blocked the group from publishing since 2013, raising concerns about downloads by people in other countries. But a few weeks ago, the State Department reversed course and agreed to a legal settlement allowing Defense Distributed to post the files as soon as Wednesday.

The attorneys general of Pennsylvania and New Jersey both got Defense Distributed to block the website downloads in their states earlier this week, preventing residents from accessing them, and have filed separate suits against the group. In addition, both on Monday joined onto the group lawsuit led by the attorney general of Washington.

“It’s incumbent on we in Congress to do everything to stop these websites before the damage by a mass shooter or a terrorist occurs,” said Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

He was among a group of Democratic senators that introduced a bill Tuesday to block the publication of the files and to ban untraceable or undetectable weapons by requiring all to have a permanent metal piece with a serial number. A similar bill is being introduced in the House by Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I.

It is difficult to predict what effect the downloads would have. Some on social media have pointed out that such templates are already available elsewhere on the internet, and there are other ways to obtain illegal guns. Plus, 3D printers can be pricey, and the plastic guns often are not durable.

Wilson himself has made much of the advent on the technology: After the settlement with the federal government, he tweeted a photo of a gravestone engraved with the words “American gun control.”

Others, including politicians fighting to block the files, say the guns will be easier to carry undetected.

The 3D-printing technology allows someone to create a gun without passing a background check or using a licensed gun dealer. The guns don’t have serial numbers, so they aren’t traceable by law enforcement, and they cannot be detected by a metal detector unless they have metal parts.

“You will see them around our streets, in our airports, our train stations; they are undetectable, untraceable. Forget about the TSA guarding the plane,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

When Wilson first published the plans in 2013, they were downloaded more than 100,000 times, The Associated Press reported. The files posted by Defense Distributed on Friday were downloaded about 2,500 times, Wilson told The New York Times.

The state attorneys general, in a letter to Pompeo, contended the federal settlement would give “terrorists, criminals, and individuals seeking to do harm … unfettered access to print and manufacture dangerous firearms.” Others contend the proliferation of such firearms could also take business away from the traditional gun industry, the companies that the NRA represents, and confound law enforcement in attempts to reduce gun violence or get illegal guns off the street.

The NRA, which had largely stayed out of the debate, said late Tuesday afternoon that the technology would not cause proliferation of 3D-printed guns.

“Many anti-gun politicians and members of the media have wrongly claimed that 3D printing technology will allow for the production and widespread proliferation of undetectable plastic firearms,” Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action said in a statement. “Regardless of what a person may be able to publish on the internet, undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years.”

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© 2018 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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