U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is demanding answers from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the Justice Department’s decision to allow people to post blueprints and detailed instructions online showing how to make a fully-functioning 3-D printed gun.
In a letter to Sessions, Nelson and others called the decision a “dangerous reversal” that overturns a long-standing U.S. State Department policy banning the release of gun-printing tutorials online – and could allow individuals to start posting blueprints and how-to videos online starting August 1.
“We are alarmed by this settlement and request an immediate explanation for DOJ’s and the State Department’s abrupt and dangerous reversal of course,” the lawmakers wrote. “The settlement will allow these tutorials to be posted online for unlimited distribution to anyone — including felons and terrorists — both here in the United States and abroad.”
For years, the U.S. State Department has argued that allowing these blueprints to be published online would violate federal export controls because the tutorials would help facilitate the manufacturing of weapons that can be accessed freely around the globe.
“We ask that, prior to August 1, 2018, DOJ provide us with a copy of the fully executed settlement agreement, and a written explanation and briefing on the reasoning behind the decision to settle this litigation in the manner it did,” the lawmakers wrote. “The American people have a right to know why their government agreed to such a dangerous outcome.”
The Justice Department’s decision could make it easier for people in the U.S. who are barred from owning a firearm under federal law – including violent criminals and domestic abusers – to make their own untraceable firearms at home using a 3-D printer. It could also make it easier for people to make their own fully-plastic firearms that can be taken undetected through high-security areas.
3-D printed plastic guns are fully-functioning firearms often made with resin or plastic using a 3-D printer. Many of these guns are virtually undetectable when carried through a metal detector or past security.
In August 2016, Transportation and Security Administration agents at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport found and confiscated a plastic gun from a passenger’s carry-on bag during screening. The gun, assembled using a 3-D printer, was found loaded with five live .22 caliber bullets.
In 2013, Congress extended a ban on the sale, manufacturing or possession of these fully-plastic guns by requiring that all firearms contain at least 3.7 ounces of steel so they can be detected by a metal detector.
In extending that ban, however, Congress failed to mandate which parts of the gun had to be metal – creating a huge legal loophole that allows people to simply attach a small removable piece of metal to an otherwise fully-plastic gun. These detachable metal clips can often be easily removed before entering a security screening area and reattached again after to meet the law’s requirement.
Nelson filed legislation last year in an attempt to close that loophole by requiring that every firearm have one main component (e.g., the frame or barrel) made of metal.
In addition to Nelson, the letter sent to Sessions was signed by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Text of the senators’ letter is below followed by a background article on the settlement. A .pdf is available here.
July 23, 2018
The Honorable Jeff Sessions
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Sessions:
We write with great alarm over the decision last month by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to settle the lawsuit brought against the State Department by the gun rights advocacy groups Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation.
In 2015, Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation sued the State Department, challenging the State Department’s decision that Defense Distributed violated federal export controls and its demand that Defense Distributed remove from the internet its blueprints for three-dimensional (“3-D”) printable firearms. Throughout the course of the lawsuit, the government maintained that its position was well-supported under the Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Indeed, as recently as April 2018, the government filed a motion to dismiss in which it argued that “[w]hatever informational value there may be in the process by which 3-D printing occurs,” Defense Distributed’s Computer Aided Design files “are indispensable to a [3-D] printing process used to create firearms and their components,” and “are also functional, directly facilitate the manufacture of weapons, and may properly be regulated for export.”
In a stunning reversal of course last month, DOJ settled the suit and agreed to allow for the public release of Defense Distributed’s 3-D firearm printing tutorials in any form. The government also made the puzzling decision to pay nearly $40,000 in legal fees to the plaintiffs using taxpayer dollars.
This settlement is inconsistent with DOJ’s previous position and is as dangerous as it is confounding. The settlement will allow these tutorials to be posted online for unlimited distribution to anyone — including felons and terrorists — both here in the United States and abroad. It also sets a dangerous precedent in defending against other legally sound determinations made by the State Department under the Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
We are alarmed by this settlement and request an immediate explanation for DOJ’s and the State Department’s abrupt and dangerous reversal of course. We ask that, prior to August 1, 2018, DOJ provide us with a copy of the fully executed settlement agreement, and a written explanation and briefing on the reasoning behind the decision to settle this litigation in the manner it did. The American people have a right to know why their government agreed to such a dangerous outcome.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
Americans can legally download 3-D printed guns starting next month
By David Williams, CNN
Published: July 20, 2018
(CNN)Gun-rights activists have reached a settlement with the government that will allow them to post 3-D printable gun plans online starting August 1.
The settlement ends a multi-year legal battle that started when Cody Wilson, who describes himself as a post-left anarchist, posted plans for a 3-D printed handgun he called “The Liberator” in 2013.
The single-shot pistol was made almost entirely out of of ABS plastic — the same stuff they make Lego bricks out of — that could be made on a 3-D printer. The only metal parts were the firing pin and a piece of metal included to comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act.
The US State Department told Wilson and his non-profit group Defense Distributed to take down the plans. It said the plans could violate International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which regulate the export of defense materials, services and technical data.
In essence, officials said someone in another country — a country the US doesn’t sell weapons to — could download the material and make their own gun.
Wilson complied, but said the files already had been downloaded a million times.
He sued the federal government in 2015.
The settlement, which is dated June 29, says that Wilson and Defense Distributed can publish plans, files and 3-D drawings in any form and exempts them from the export restrictions. The government also agreed to pay almost $40,000 of Wilson’s legal fees and to refund some registration fees.
The settlement has not been made public, but Wilson’s attorneys provided a copy to CNN.
“We asked for the Moon and we figured the government would reject it, but they didn’t want to go to trial,” said Alan M. Gottlieb with the Second Amendment Foundation, which helped in the case. “The government fought us all the way and then all of the sudden folded their tent.”
Gottlieb said they filed the lawsuit during the Obama administration, but he doesn’t think that explains the change of heart.
“These were all career people that we were dealing with. I don’t think there was anything political about it,” he said.
Avery Gardiner, the co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said she’d be astonished if the settlement wasn’t approved by political appointees.
“We were shocked and disappointed that the Trump administration would make a secret backroom deal with very little notice,” Gardiner said. She said she found out about the settlement from a magazine article.
The group has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails and other documents related to the settlement.
Josh Blackman, Wilson’s attorney, said he wished the settlement signaled a philosophical change.
“They were going to lose this case,” Blackman said. “If the government litigated this case and they lost this decision could be used to challenge other kinds of gun control laws.”
Do-it-yourself firearms like The Liberator have been nicknamed “Ghost Guns” because they don’t have serial numbers and are untraceable.
Wilson has built a website where people will be able to download The Liberator and digital files for an AR-15 lower receiver, a complete Baretta M9 handgun and other firearms. Users will also be able to share their own designs for guns, magazines and other accessories.
He says the files will be a good resource for builders, even though it’s not yet practical for most people to 3-D print most of the guns.
“It’s still out of reach for them. We’ll get to watch it all develop,” Wilson said. “The plans will be here when that moment comes.”
For Wilson and his supporters, the ability to build unregulated and untraceable guns will make it much harder, if not impossible for governments to ban them.
Gardiner fears it will make it easier for terrorists and people who are too dangerous to pass criminal background checks to get their hands on guns.
“I think everybody in America ought to be terrified about that.”
The fact that high end 3-D printers are still too expensive for most people doesn’t ease her concerns.
“The people who make them will be state actors or well financed criminal cartels who have the ability to execute well organized criminal attacks in the United States and elsewhere,” she said.
She said that providing the plans to anyone in the world, who has Internet access is a national security threat.
The Defense Distributed website proclaims that “the age of the downloadable gun formally begins.”