States Sue Government Over Allowing 3D Printed Gun Files’ Online Distribution

21 states, led by Washington, have filed suit against the State Department to block new rules allowing the release of blueprint files used to 3D print guns. The states argued that these files would make it easier for criminals and terrorists to access hard-to-trace weapons. “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,” Washington’s Office of the Attorney General stated.

The suit specifically alleges violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, accusing the government of taking arbitrary and capricious action and failing to abide by the notice-and-comment procedures set out by that Act. 

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson emphasized that the Trump administration admitted that this could pose a safety concern, “[t]he 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.”

“Why is the Trump administration working so hard to allow domestic abusers, felons and terrorists access to untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed guns?” Ferguson added.

The challenges echo previous lawsuits filed by a similar set of plaintiffs; this is the latest in a long-running battle between state governments and the Trump Administration.  In 2015, Defense Distributed, an online organization that hosted files for the manufacture of 3D printed guns, sued the Obama administration after the government forced them to remove the files. The government claimed that posting the files online violated firearm export laws and was a national security and public safety threat. The Trump administration reversed course and settled the case in 2018, allowing the 3D gun files to be posted online.

The state of Washington (joined by a cohort of states) sued and struck down this agreement.  In ruling for the states, Judge Robert Lasnik stated the administration’s decision 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.”

 “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.”  This case has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit.