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Attorney General William Tong

02/25/2021

Attorney General Tong Joins Fight Against Company Distributing 3D-Printed Gun Files Seeking to Stop State Law Enforcement Actions

(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong has joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general from around the nation in opposing a lawsuit that seeks to stop states from enforcing their laws against a company disseminating dangerous 3D-printed gun files on the internet.

In an amicus brief supporting the petitioner in the case Grewal v. Defense Distributed before the U.S. Supreme Court, the coalition seeks to protect states’ efforts to stop Defense Distributed from unlawfully publishing easily-downloadable files on the internet that provide the instructions to build dangerous 3D-printed firearms, including assault weapons.

“The dangers of 3D printed ghost guns are not theoretical. These unregistered, untraceable weapons have already been seized on the streets of Hartford and Waterbury,” Attorney General Tong said. “Here in Connecticut, we have some of the strongest gun safety laws on the books — we banned ghost guns in 2019 — but these statutes can only go so far if we don’t have the power to enforce them with online and out of state entities like Defense Distributed. We will continue this fight for as long as it takes to protect public safety and national security.”

For years, Defense Distributed has attempted to widely disseminate dangerous internet files that give individuals the ability to manufacture unregistered and untraceable 3D-printed firearms that can be extremely difficult to detect, even with a metal detector. A number of state and local officials sent the company cease and desist letters ordering the company to stop breaking state laws. Defense Distributed then sued the officials in federal court in Texas, but ultimately only pursued its case against New Jersey’s attorney general. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that Texas courts had personal jurisdiction over New Jersey’s attorney general, the attorney general petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the case.

In the amicus brief, the coalition, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, argues that cease and desist letters are critical and cost-effective tools for enforcing state law, and, in the internet age, state and local officials increasingly must direct such cease and desist letters out of state. Because out-of-state entities, like Defense Distributed, operate online and, therefore, operate across state lines, state officials cannot protect their residents from violations of their own state’s laws by such entities without being able to send cease and desist letters out of state.

Additionally, the coalition argues that the Fifth Circuit failed to account for critical state-sovereignty and federalism considerations when it found that the Texas courts had personal jurisdiction over New Jersey — in violation of longstanding Supreme Court precedent set out in cases, such as World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson. Specifically, the federalism principles underpinning that precedent do not permit the recipient of a cease and desist letter from an out-of-state official to sue the official in the recipient’s home state when the letter was sent from the official’s home state, and the official is simply enforcing his or her own state’s laws as applied to the recipient’s activities in the official’s home state.

The coalition makes clear that permitting suits in such circumstances — as the Fifth Circuit did here — forces a state official to risk burdensome and expensive lawsuits in a foreign forum at the cost of protecting state residents from an entity that is reaching into the official’s state and violating that state’s laws. This undermines state sovereignty and harms the public interests of the official’s state by chilling legitimate law-enforcement efforts or else dramatically increasing the costs of those efforts.

The coalition asks the Supreme Court to review the Fifth Circuit’s decision, and ultimately to order the dismissal of Defense Distributed’s case in Texas for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Joining Attorneys General Tong and James in filing this amicus brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
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