Attorney General James Sues New Trump Administration For Easing 3D Gun Creation

Federal Judge Found Previous Attempt to Allow Release of 3D-Printed Guns Unlawful

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James and a coalition of 20 additional attorneys general from around the nation today filed a multistate lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s efforts to allow 3D-printed gun files to be released on the internet. These files would allow anyone to go online to simply use easily, downloadable files with specifications for particular guns, including AR-15s, and then manufacture unregistered and untraceable 3D-printed firearms that can be extremely difficult to detect, even with a metal detector. Untraceable firearms are sometimes called “ghost guns” because they lack serial number or other identifying features.

As a result of a previous multistate lawsuit, a federal judge struck down the Administration’s earlier attempt to allow the release of the files. Last week, the Administration embarked on a new effort by publishing formal rules, which were finalized earlier today. Today’s lawsuit — filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington — argues those rules are unlawful for many of the same reasons as the previous attempt.

“Ghost Guns endanger every single one of us,” said Attorney General James. “These 3D-printed weapons are unregistered, untraceable, and, in many cases, undetectable. While the president and his Administration know these homemade weapons pose an imminent threat, he continues to cater to the gun lobby — risking the lives of millions of Americans. We’re filing this lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration from further facilitating the spread of gun violence at our schools, our offices, and our places of worship.”

In 2015, Defense Distributed — an organization dedicated to global distribution of open-source, downloadable 3D-printed guns — sued the Obama Administration after the U.S. Department of State forced the removal of the files from the internet. The federal government successfully argued before federal district and appellate courts that posting the files online would violate firearm export laws and pose a serious threat to national security and public safety. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In defending against Defense Distributed’s lawsuit, the federal government previously stated it was “particularly concerned that [the] proposed export of undetectable firearms technology could be used in an assassination, for the manufacture of spare parts by embargoed nations, terrorist groups, or to compromise aviation security overseas in a manner specifically directed at U.S. persons.”

Then, in an abrupt reversal of past actions, the Trump Administration settled the case in June 2018. As part of the settlement, the federal government agreed to allow unlimited public distribution of the downloadable files for 3D-printed guns on the internet.

In July 2018, a multistate coalition filed a lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration. In November 2019, District Court Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that the Trump Administration’s decision to allow the files’ distribution was arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful: “Given the agency's prior position regarding the need to regulate 3D-printed firearms and the CAD [computer aided design] files used to manufacture them, it must do more than simply announce a contrary position.” Judge Lasnik went on to write, “Overall, the Department of State concluded that the worldwide publication of computerized instructions for the manufacture of undetectable firearms was a threat to world peace and the national security interests of the United States and would cause serious and long-lasting harm to its foreign policy. Against these findings, the federal defendants offer nothing.”

Despite its loss in federal court, the Trump Administration is trying again — this time by publishing new rules that would transfer the regulation of 3D-printed guns from the Department of State to the Department of Commerce. In the new rules, the Administration acknowledges the dangers posed by the distribution of 3D-printed gun files: “Such items could be easily used in the proliferation of conventional weapons, the acquisition of destabilizing numbers of such weapons, or for acts of terrorism…The potential for the ease of access to the software and technology, undetectable means of production, and potential to inflict harm on U.S. persons and allies abroad present a grave concern for the United States.”

In spite of these dangers, loopholes in Commerce regulations mean the agency will lack the power to regulate 3D-printed guns in any meaningful way — effectively allowing their unlimited distribution.

Additionally, despite the claims of a handful of critics, the Administration has acknowledged that regulating the distribution of 3D-printed gun files does not in any way violate the First or Second Amendments: “Limitations on the dissemination of such functional technology and software do not violate the right to free expression under the First Amendment. Nor does the final rule violate the right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.”

The lawsuit filed today asserts that the rule is unlawful for reasons similar to the ones found by the district court in earlier litigation. The Administration has still offered no evidence supporting their about-face on the risks of allowing unregulated access to firearms worldwide — making the rule arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In fact, the Administration agrees that regulation is needed, even though its new regulations are toothless and will not prevent the global dissemination of 3D-printed guns.

In providing public notice of the rule, the Administration mentioned other changes to regulations for small firearms, but not the changes to 3D-printed guns. That failure to provide meaningful public notice also violates the APA.

Joining Attorney General James in filing today’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.