States sue Trump administration over 3-D printed gun accord; R.I. studying response

3-D PRINTERS SUCH AS this one making a watch component could potentially be used to make firearms. A number of state attorneys general have filed suit to keep a Texas nonprofit from releasing plans for making guns with a 3-D printer. / BLOOMBERGER NEWS PHOTO/MICHELE LIMINA
3-D PRINTERS SUCH AS this one making a watch component could potentially be used to make firearms. A number of state attorneys general have filed suit to keep a Texas nonprofit from releasing plans for making guns with a 3-D printer. / BLOOMBERG NEWS PHOTO/MICHELE LIMINA

NEW YORK – A group of states sued the Trump administration to block its legal settlement allowing a small Texas nonprofit to publish instructions on the internet for making downloadable guns with 3-D printers.

The government violated federal law by arbitrarily excluding the firearm designs from U.S. export controls that have barred Austin-based Defense Distributed from publishing them, the coalition of Democratic attorneys general from eight states and the District of Columbia said in their complaint.

“For unknown reasons, the federal government has put the country in a clear and present danger of the irreversible proliferation of untraceable and, if made with non-metal components, undetectable guns,” the group said in its filing Monday in federal court in Seattle.

The states asked the court for an emergency restraining order to temporarily bar Defense Distributed from publishing the files as planned starting Aug. 1, a date hailed by the nonprofit’s website as the beginning of the “age of the downloadable gun.”

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R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin said in an emailed response to PBN that he is evaluating Rhode Island-specific standing to properly join the lawsuit and coordinating on how to best to stop Defense Distributed from posting downloadable guns online that can be created using 3D printer technology.

In a statement, Kilmartin said “There is no question that this will lead to the mass proliferation of illegal and untraceable firearms by any individual or group with access to a 3-D printer, after which these weapons will inevitably end up in the hands of those who should not and cannot legally possess firearms. This is a matter of great public safety and security and it is unsettling that the Department of Justice would disregard its own long-standing policy, paving the way for unfettered access to deadly weapons with zero regulation or precautions. We will pick up where the federal government failed and move to stop the distribution of these gun designs before it is too late.”

The lawsuit follows earlier efforts by individual state attorneys general and gun-control groups to prevent Defense Distributed from following through with a plan they say is a public safety disaster in waiting. Defense Distributed agreed to temporarily block Pennsylvania internet users from downloading its blueprints after legal threats from that state’s attorney general.

“I have a question for the Trump administration: Why are you allowing dangerous criminals easy access to weapons?” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “These downloadable guns are unregistered and very difficult to detect, even with metal detectors. If the Trump Administration won’t keep us safe, we will.”

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Monday filed a separate lawsuit against Defense Distributed in Superior Court in Essex County, seeking a temporary restraining order against Defense Distributed and its founder, Cody Wilson.

“These dangerous files would allow anyone – including terrorists, domestic abusers, felons, fugitives, and juveniles – to print untraceable assault weapons using a 3D printer from the comfort of their own homes,” Grewal said.

The administration of former President Barack Obama initially argued, successfully in court, that the manuals for 3-D guns violate firearm export laws. The Trump administration backed that theory until as recently as April, the states have said. The states that sued argue that the administration’s about-face also violates state’s rights under the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment.

The U.S. said last week that the export-control regulations Ferguson wants reinstated are being addressed by proposed regulatory changes that would reassign federal oversight for weapons that don’t give the U.S. a critical military advantage. On July 27, a federal judge in Texas denied a request from gun-control groups to block Defense Distributed from releasing its blueprints.

Erik Larson and Kartikay Mehrotra are Bloomberg News staff writers. PBN staff contributed to this report.