HARTFORD, CT — A federal judge in Washington granted a temporary restraining order Tuesday that will prevent the public release of blueprints for 3D-printed guns on Aug. 1.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik found that eight states, including Connecticut, have shown a likelihood of success in arguing the federal government may have violated the Administrative Procedure Act in allowing the removal of items from the United States Munitions List.
The federal government in settling its case July 10 with Defense Distributed, the Texas nonprofit that planned to release the blueprints, had determined that the type of firearms and related technical data would not provide a military advantage to adversaries and no longer warranted control.
Lansik concluded that when the president delegated his authority under the Arms Export Control Act to the Secretary of the State, “he also imposed a requirement that any changes in designations of defense articles and defense services subject to export control had to have the concurrence of the Secretary of Defense. There is no indication that the federal government followed the prescribed procedures.”
That’s a central argument in the complaint filed Monday by the eight states.
Lansik further concluded that not publishing the computer-assisted design files for the guns wouldn’t be a hardship for Defense Distributed or the federal government because it would maintain the current status quo.
“If an injunction is not issued and the status quo alters at midnight tonight, the proliferation of these firearms will have many of the negative impacts on a state level that the federal government once feared on the international stage,” Lansik wrote.
On July 10 the Texas nonprofit Defense Distributed reached a settlement with the Trump administration resolving a 2015 government challenge to its public posting of the instructions for manufacturing guns with 3D printers. The challenge was started in 2013 during the Obama administration.
In 2013, when Defense Distributed uploaded software and schematic files that allowed for the creation of a 3D-printed plastic gun dubbed “The Liberator,” the U.S. State Department demanded its removal on national-security grounds.
The nonprofit, which is run by Cody Wilson, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the government’s position. A judge denied his preliminary injunction and the denial was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the case on Jan. 8, 2018.
However, a recent settlement with the Trump administration’s State Department would have allowed the nonprofit to publish the schematics on its website on Aug. 1.
Connecticut was one of eight states that went to court to stop the federal government from allowing this to happen.
Attorney General George Jepsen said the court “wisely ordered the Administration to continue to bar any distribution of plans for 3D-printed firearms for now, and we are grateful for this common-sense action.”
He added: “To allow the federal government to reverse course, without legal justification and in violation of federal law, and to make these weapons easily available to those who might seek to harm Connecticut residents or to jeopardize our national security simply defies logic.”
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was equally pleased.
“The court’s decision to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the public release of blueprints for making homemade undetectable and untraceable plastic guns is the right one,” Malloy said Tuesday. “Quite frankly, the Trump administration’s complete about-face on this issue fits the very definition of irrationality. It is also an utter abdication of responsibility whereby it would make it easier for those who wish to inflict harm and skirt public safety laws to succeed. Thankfully, reason prevailed in the courts today and we hope it foretells of a more permanent reprieve from a very dangerous potential reality.”
A hearing on a preliminary injunction, which would be more permanent than a temporary restraining order will be held on Aug. 10.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association is stepping into the debate over the First Amendment and 3D printing.
Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, said that anti-gun politicians and the media have it wrong. He said releasing the plans to the public would not allow for the production and widespread proliferation of undetectable plastic firearms.
“Regardless of what a person may be able to publish on the Internet, undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years,” Cox said. “Federal law passed in 1988, crafted with the NRA’s support, makes it unlawful to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive an undetectable firearm.”