SEATTLE — A federal judge on Tuesday stopped the release of blueprints to make untraceable and undetectable 3D-printed plastic guns as President Donald Trump questioned whether his administration should have agreed to allow the plans to be posted online.
The company behind the plans, Austin, Texas-based Defense Distributed, had reached a settlement with the federal government in June allowing it to make the plans for the guns available for download on Wednesday.
The restraining order from U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle puts that plan on hold for now.
“There is a possibility of irreparable harm because of the way these guns can be made,” he said.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson called the ruling “a complete, total victory.”
“We were asking for a nationwide temporary restraining order putting a halt to this outrageous decision by the federal government to allow these 3D downloadable guns to be available around our country and around the world. He granted that relief,” Ferguson said at a news conference after the hearing. “That is significant.”
Eight Democratic attorneys general had filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block the settlement. They also sought the restraining order, arguing the 3D guns would be a safety risk.
Democrats Had Urged Trump To Reverse Course
Congressional Democrats have urged Trump to reverse the decision to publish the plans. Trump had said earlier Tuesday that he’s “looking into” the idea, saying making 3D plastic guns available to the public “doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
The election-year headache is a problem of the administration’s own making. After a years-long court battle, the State Department in late June settled a case against a Texas company that wants to provide directions that would allow people to computer-print their own guns.
The settlement, which took gun-control advocates by surprise, allowed Austin-based Defense Distributors to resume posting blueprints for the hard-plastic guns at the end of July.
“Ghost Guns” Difficult to Trace
Democrats sounded the alarm, warning about “ghost guns” that can avoid detection and pose a deadly hazard.
The company’s website said downloads would begin Wednesday, but blueprints for at least one gun — a plastic pistol called the Liberator — have been posted on the site since Friday. A lawyer for the company said he didn’t know how many blueprints had been downloaded since then.
Outrage over the administration decision is putting gun-control back into the election-year political debate, but with a high-tech twist.
The president seemed to express surprise. He said on Twitter he was looking into the idea of a company providing plans to the public for printing guns, and he said it “doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
Democrats agreed and said Trump had the power to stop it.
Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said Trump has boasted that he alone can fix problems afflicting the country.
“Well, fix this deadly mistake that once again your administration has made,” Markey said.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal went further, saying that if Trump does not block the open printing of 3D guns, “Blood is going to be on his hands.”
At least one Republican also expressed concern.
“Even as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment — this is not right,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski tweeted, linking to a news story on the guns.
Plastic Weapons Are a Deadly Hazard
Eight states have filed suit to block the administration’s decision, contending that the plastic weapons are a boon to terrorists and criminals and threaten public safety.
The NRA said in a statement that “anti-gun politicians” and some members of the news media wrongly claim that 3D printing technology “will allow for the production and widespread proliferation of undetectable plastic firearms.”
In truth, “undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s political arm. A federal law passed in 1988 —crafted with NRA support — bars the manufacture, sale or possession of an undetectable firearm.
Trump spokesman Hogan Gidley made much the same point, saying the administration supports the law against wholly plastic guns, including those made with a 3D printer.
And Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican, said, “People shouldn’t be under the impression they can download this and make an undetectable firearm.”
But Democrats called the law weak and said gun users can get around it by using weapons with a removable metal block that the gun doesn’t need in order to function.
Legislation Measures Are Being Made
Markey, Blumenthal and other Democrats filed legislation that would prohibit the publication of a digital file online that allows a 3D printer to manufacture a firearm. Democrats also filed a separate bill to require that all guns have at least one non-removable component made of metal.
The second measure is intended to ensure that even guns primarily made of plastic can be discovered by metal detectors.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, blocked a Democratic request to bring the bill straight to the Senate floor, citing First Amendment free speech concerns.
In a suit filed Monday in Seattle, eight Democratic attorneys general asked a judge to block the federal government’s settlement with Defense Distributed.
Criminals May Not Go Through the Trouble
People can use the blueprints to manufacture plastic guns using a 3D printer. But industry experts have expressed doubts that criminals would go to the trouble, since the printers needed to make the guns can cost thousands of dollars, the guns themselves tend to disintegrate quickly and traditional firearms are easy to come by.
Unlike traditional firearms that can fire thousands of rounds in a lifetime, the 3D-printed guns normally last only a few rounds before they fall apart, experts say. They usually hold a bullet or two and then must be manually loaded. And they’re not usually very accurate.
Chris Knox, communications director for The Firearms Coalition, a gun-rights group, called the Liberator handgun a “very crude … zip gun” and said the growing debate over 3D printed guns was an overreaction.
Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, first published downloadable designs for a 3D-printed firearm in 2013. The plans were downloaded about 100,000 times until the State Department ordered him to cease, contending the effort violated federal export laws since some of the blueprints were downloaded by people outside the United States.
The State Department reversed course last month, agreeing to allow Wilson to resume posting the blueprints.
The company filed its own suit in Texas on Sunday, asserting that it’s the victim of an “ideologically fueled program of intimidation and harassment” that violates the company’s First Amendment rights.
Meanwhile, Defense Distributed agreed to block temporarily Pennsylvania residents from downloading the plans after state officials went to federal court in Philadelphia on Sunday seeking an emergency order. The company said it had also blocked access to users in New Jersey and Los Angeles.