Attorneys general from eight states and Washington, D.C., are suing the State Department in an effort to prevent a Texas-based company from publishing downloadable blueprints for 3D-printed plastic guns, just days before the designs are set to go online.
The lawsuit, announced Monday by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D), asks a federal judge to halt a June settlement between the Trump administration and digital firearms nonprofit Defense Distributed. The agreement allowed the company to publicly distribute schematics for handguns and rifles including the AR-15, which it says it plans to begin doing on Aug. 1.
In a tweet Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he was “looking into” the issue of 3D-printed guns, and had already spoken with the National Rifle Association.
Critics have blasted his admistration’s settlement, saying it threatens public safety and national security by opening the door for the production of unregulated and untraceable firearms.
“I have a question for the Trump Administration: Why are you allowing dangerous criminals easy access to weapons?” Ferguson 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. If the Trump Administration won’t keep us safe, we will.”
The State Department’s decision to settle the case last month came as a surprise to pretty much everyone, including Defense Distributed, according to Wired. The federal government had been fighting the case since 2015, when Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson, a self-described anarchist, sued the State Department over a 2013 order demanding that he take down blueprints for “the Liberator,” a single-shot .380 caliber handgun made almost entirely of 3D-printed plastic. Wilson claimed the government had violated his First Amendment right to free speech, but federal courts hadn’t appeared sympathetic to his case, and as recently as April the State Department seemed willing to continue litigating.
Then the Trump administration changed course, stating in its settlement that Wilson’s blueprints would be exempt from previous restrictions under a recent proposal to loosen foreign arms trafficking regulations. The government also agreed to reimburse Defense Distributed for nearly $40,000 in legal fees, while maintaining that it had not denied Wilson’s constitutional rights..
Wilson was quick to hail the move as step toward victory in his broader campaign to sabotage U.S. gun control efforts.
Wilson told Wired this month that the settlement put him on the verge of unleashing a “Cambrian explosion” of digital content related to firearms. He said he hoped to put an end to the youth-led movement for gun reform in response to the February massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
“All this Parkland stuff, the students, all these dreams of ‘common sense gun reforms’? No. The internet will serve guns, the gun is downloadable,” Wilson said. “No amount of petitions or die-ins or anything else can change that.”
In Ferguson’s statement announcing the lawsuit, he accused the Trump administration of making an “arbitrary and capricious” settlement with Defense Distributed, which he said was reached without proper notice to Congress or consideration from other branches of the federal government. The suit also argues the settlement violates the 10th Amendment by infringing on states’ rights to regulate firearms.
Attorneys general for Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania ― all Democrats ― have also joined Ferguson’s lawsuit against the State Department. A few of the states have already taken more immediate action to block Defense Distributed from disseminating the digital firearm blueprints. California is considering taking separate legal action, but has not joined Ferguson’s suit, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office told HuffPost.
Earlier Monday, a coalition of 21 state attorneys general sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging them to withdraw from the settlement.
“As a result of the Department of State’s settlement with Defense Distributed, terrorists, criminals, and individuals seeking to do harm would have unfettered access to print and manufacture dangerous firearms,” the attorneys general wrote. “Illegal trafficking of these guns across state and national borders could also increase, and self-made, unregistered, and untraceable firearms could easily wind up in the hands of (or simply be produced directly by) dangerous individuals.”
Ferguson’s lawsuit follows an unsuccessful effort by the nation’s leading gun safety groups to delay the settlement in order to give the court additional time to fully consider its potential effects.
Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — which had filed suit along with Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence ― commended the attorneys general for taking action ahead of Aug. 1.
“We hope that the Trump Administration will take the reasonable step of slowing down the settlement and sharing its reasons for doing a complete 180,” she said in a statement to HuffPost. “Delaying the settlement for a few weeks would give the courts time to evaluate the legal issues these AGs are raising ― and it is the responsible thing to do.”
This was updated to include Trump’s tweet.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that California had joined the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit against the Trump administration. Although California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is considering filing a separate suit, he is not a party to this case.