Law Street Media

Court Grants Injunction In 3D-Printed Guns Case

A 3D Printer

close up photo of futuristic 3d printer. micro and nano electronics

In an ongoing battle over “export controls on technical data related to 3-D printed firearms” the State of Washington won a preliminary injunction against the United States Department of State. The plaintiff states sought to block new rules that would allow the online distribution of blueprint files for firearms that would facilitate 3-D printing. The states feared that releasing files will allow terrorists to access these files, which will not be registered nor detectable through a metal detector.

A private company, Defense Distributed, sought to allow the sharing of blueprints and sued the United States government.  That case settled, and the government changed its position, essentially allowing the distribution of the files online. A group of states, led by Washington, sued over the State Department’s final rule.

The states claimed “that the federal defendants failed to abide by the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements,” “that the federal defendants’ actions were ‘arbitrary and capricious’ in failing to consider relevant national security and foreign policy interests,” and “that the State Rule is contrary to the AECA.”

The court decided that the states “sufficiently alleged harm to their legally protectable sovereign interests.” The government failed to provide notice or reasonably evaluate the risks and benefits of the proposed action, the judge reasoned. In evaluating the likelihood of the states’ success, the court found that exemptions to the Arms Export Control Act, Export Control Reform Act, and Administrative Procedures Act were not applicable.

The federal government failed to mention 3D printed guns or Defense Distributed in its notice, thus the final proposal was not a logical continuation of settlement, the court said. Further, the states argued that the government’s decision to remove 3D printed gun files from the Munitions List was arbitrary and capricious because it did not consider AECA factors and it did not address or overrule its previous 3D gun file regulations. The government only considered if it would “provide the United States with a military or intelligence advantage;” it did not consider “how the proliferation of weaponry and related technical data would impact world peace, national security, and foreign policy.” The State Department also did not address contradicting itself with an earlier position that this would pose a national security concern and under AECA and ITAR, the State Department did not explain how this would further national security and world peace. The states also argued they will suffer irreparable harm from the dissemination of this technical data; the court agreed.

The court found that the government’s own actions undermine its argument, specifically that an injunction would harm national security; however, an injunction would keep the status quo, which the court noted could not further harm national security. The court also determined that the balance of equity and public interest was in the states’ favor.

The injunction enjoins defendants “from implementing or enforcing the regulation entitled International Traffic in Arms Regulations U.S. Munitions List Categories I, II, and III, 85 Fed. Reg. 3819 (Jan. 23, 2020) insofar as it alters the status quo restrictions on technical data and software directly related to the production of firearms or firearm parts using a 3D-printer or similar equipment.”

The preliminary injunction is effective immediately and will be in effect pending trial or further court order.

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