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Attorney General William Tong

01/22/2020

Connecticut to Join Lawsuit to Prevent Release of 3D-Printed Gun Files

Federal judge found previous attempt unlawful

Attorney General William Tong today announced Connecticut will challenge the Trump Administration’s new effort to allow 3D-printed gun files to be released on the internet, joining a coalition of 20 states led by Washington State in an upcoming federal lawsuit. These files would allow plug-and-play access to 3D-print unregistered, untraceable firearms that can also be very difficult to detect, even with a metal detector. Untraceable firearms are sometimes called “ghost guns.”

As a result of a 2018 multistate lawsuit that Connecticut also joined, a federal judge struck down the Trump Administration’s prior attempt to allow the release of the files. After losing in court, the Trump Administration is trying again, this time by publishing new rules that would transfer regulation of 3D-printed guns from the State Department to the Department of Commerce, effectively allowing their unlimited distribution.

Those rules were made available to the public last Friday, and are expected to be finalized later this week. Once the rules are finalized, the coalition will file a lawsuit in Seattle in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, arguing those rules are unlawful for many of the same reasons as the previous attempt.

"Once these plans are widely available, we cannot un-ring this bell. Proliferation of DIY untraceable weapons—flying under the radar of background checks, red flag orders, and even metal detectors—would be a public safety and national security nightmare. Connecticut has some of the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, but our borders cannot block the flow of these weapons if an irresponsible federal government enables their creation. Connecticut will join states across the country in court to fight to ensure these reckless 3D-plans stay offline for good," said Attorney General Tong.

“The majority of people in our country want us to close the gaping loopholes that could allow guns to get in the wrong hands,” Governor Ned Lamont said. “Connecticut, along with a number of other individual states, is making necessary strides to reduce gun violence and pass commonsense policies that keep our communities safe, but we can only do so much without the support of the federal government. Putting an end to the epidemic of gun violence in our nation is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it’s an American issue.”

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. State Department forced Defense Distributed to remove the files from the internet. The federal government successfully argued before federal trial and appellate courts that posting the files online violates firearm export laws and poses 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, the Trump Administration settled the case on June 29, 2018. As part of the settlement, the Trump Administration agreed to allow unlimited public distribution on the internet of the downloadable files for 3D-printed guns.

Connecticut joined a multistate lawsuit led by Washington State on July 30, 2018. On Nov. 12, 2019, 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 files used to manufacture them, it must do more than simply announce a contrary position,” Judge Lasnik wrote. “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.”

After losing in court, the Trump Administration is now publishing new rules. In the rules, the Trump 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.”

However, due to loopholes in the Commerce regulations, the agency will lack the power to regulate 3D-printed guns in any meaningful way.

The administration also acknowledged that regulating the distribution of 3D-printed gun files does not violate the First or Second Amendments, as some critics have claimed: “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 upcoming lawsuit will assert that the rule is unlawful for similar reasons to those that invalidated the previous effort. 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.

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