A federal judge in Seattle is expected to decide on Tuesday whether to temporarily block a website from distributing files that could be used to create guns with a 3D printer.
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik of the Western District of Washington is expected to consider a request for a temporary restraining order from nine state attorneys general who sought in a lawsuit on Monday to permanently stop those files from being shared online.
Defense Distributed, a private defense firm, planned to make several printable gun designs available online for free on Wednesday. Lasnik’s decision may prevent those files from being shared for the time being.
The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of State, which reversed a regulation last week that banned such files from being shared. The agency previously believed that distributing those files would be counterproductive to national security and foreign policy interests, according to the lawsuit.
That changed when the State Department entered into a settlement with Defense Distributed in June. The company had sued the department for its position on the availability of those files, calling it a violation of free speech protections. The federal agency decided in the settlement to temporarily modify the rule to allow Defense Distributed to share the files.
The states claim in their lawsuit that the State Department violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not giving proper notice or explanation of its decision. The states also claim the action violates their right to enact their own gun laws, some of which would be more difficult to enforce with printable firearms, they said.
The federal agency was required to give 30 days’ notice to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Relations in the U.S. Senate, according to the lawsuit. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, said in a press release two weeks ago that the House committee had not been given notice. He’s the ranking Democrat on that committee.
The states also argue the State Department’s action is illegal because it allows “any United States person” to print a 3D gun using the files. That would allow guns to be printed by individuals who are not allowed to manufacture, possess, or sell a firearm, which would violate state and federal laws, according to the states.
A third cause of action claims that the federal government has not explained why it chose to allow the files to be shared. The State Department has not released any reports or analyses on the issue, the states said, and they have not considered the threat to public safety and national security.
The states also claim that allowing the files to be shared would contradict their own gun laws. New York has among the strictest gun laws in the country, for example. The state has outlawed semi-automatic weapons with certain features and also regulates the possession of firearms by mentally ill residents. The lawsuit argues the state’s laws would essentially be nullified by allowing individuals to obtain weapons that contradict the state’s laws with a 3D printer.
Defense Distributed, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, is being represented by Josh Blackman, an attorney from Houston.
In a letter to Lasnik sent Tuesday morning, Blackman wrote that granting injunctive relief to the states by preventing the files from being shared would violate the free speech rights of every U.S. citizen.
“Granting the proposed injunctive relief would not only silence the three named defendants, but it would immediately censor over three hundred million Americans,” Blackman wrote. “Today, the validity of nationwide injunctions is subject to a robust debate. But never before has any court entertained a global injunction on the freedom of speech of all Americans.”
Blackman also argued that the State Department was not required to give notice to Congress or an explanation of its decision because the settlement granted a unique license to Defense Distributed to share the files.
The federal agency defended their decision Tuesday. A spokesperson from the State Department said they decided to settle the case in the interest of the security and foreign policy of the United States, and that they consulted with the U.S. Department of Justice on the settlement.
The spokesperson also stressed that their role in the matter was to regulate the export of firearms and related technical data rather than domestic gun laws.
New York Democrats in the Legislature have already introduced state legislation to respond to the settlement. State Sens. Brad Hoylman and Kevin Parker, both from New York City, announced a bill on Monday to regulate guns that have been 3D printed.
Their legislation would require an individual in New York to have a gunsmith license to manufacture or assemble a gun that’s been printed. That individual would also have to register the gun with law enforcement and attach a serial number to the firearm. Those guns would be illegal to buy or sell without a serial number in New York. The bill would also require that each piece of a printed gun be detectable by a metal detector.
The lawsuit is being led by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who is also joined by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood and attorneys general from Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.