3D printed guns: 19 states sue, nationwide restraining order granted

We're up to 19 states suing the Trump administration.

Kaitlin Benz Editorial Summer Intern 2018 / News
Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
5 min read
Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

Nineteen US states have just sued to stop the distribution of plans for 3D printed weapons. But it may already be too late.

An eight-state lawsuit, filed July 30, sought to block a federal government settlement that would give the public access to downloadable plans for 3D printed weapons, and on July 31, a Seattle judge granted a temporary restraining order against the 3D printed gun plans -- despite the fact that they'd already appeared online days earlier.

Shortly after the temporary restraining order was issued, links to download the files appeared to be gone.

On Aug. 2, 11 more states joined the lawsuit -- 19 in all. 

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the lawsuit Monday morning, with Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Maryland, New York and the District of Columbia signing on.

"These downloadable guns are unregistered and very difficult to detect, even with metal detectors, and will be available to anyone regardless of age, mental health or criminal history," Ferguson said in a statement Monday.

Separately, 20 state attorneys general -- those from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state, as well as the District of Columbia -- sent a letter (PDF) to the State Department and the Department of Justice on Monday, asking them to immediately block the 3D printed gun plans from appearing online. 

Here's the letter in full:

President Trump's response

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump weighed in. "I am looking into 3-D plastic guns being sold to the public," Trump tweeted. "Already spoke to NRA, doesn't seem to make much sense!"

Trump's tweet doesn't make a lot of sense, though -- the issue isn't about whether guns are being sold to the public, and you can also print them out of metal.

In 2013, Cody Wilson, founder of weapon designer Defense Distributed, debuted the world's first 3D printed gun. Two years later, Defense Distributed, which was joined by a gun rights organization, sued the State Department over the forced removal of the instruction manuals from the internet.

But last month, the State Department agreed to waive its prior restraint order against Wilson and Defense Distributed, allowing them to freely publish designs and other technical files, according to a press release from the Second Amendment Foundation. In the meantime, Wilson has reportedly been stockpiling new weapon designs, as well as working on a computer-controlled mill known as the Ghost Gunner that can automatically make functional AR-15 rifle parts out of a block of aluminum.

The State Department said it settled with Defense Distributed and SAF because the issues raised in the lawsuit won't be relevant to it in the near future when the Department of Commerce takes over the responsibility of regulating exports and manufacturing of commercially available firearms.

In a tweet July 30, Wilson said, "I am now being sued by at least 21 state attorneys general." 

"We are prepared to litigate," Wilson said in an emailed statement to CNET. "The American people have the unquestionable right to access this information."

The gun plans are already online

In the legal complaint, released Monday afternoon, the states argued that once the 3D printed weapon plans had been published to the internet on Aug. 1, it would be "a bell that cannot be unrung."

But it turns out Defense Distributed actually rang that bell before the lawsuit was filed. In an email, Wilson said he'd uploaded the plans to the website on July 27 and that they were already available to download. Defense Distributed was initially planning to make the files available Aug. 1.

Sure enough, CNET was able to download copies of plans for two guns from the website.

In a statement to CNET on Tuesday, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen called out Defense Distributed for releasing the plans ahead of schedule, and President Trump for allegedly pretending not to be aware.

"It is inconceivable that Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo would have reversed course and allowed Defense Distributed to make these plans available on the internet without the president's knowledge and consent. As such, the Trump Administration is responsible for the situation we now face; Connecticut and our partner states will continue to pursue litigation to halt broader dissemination of these plans regardless of whatever the president may say on Twitter."

"While we are aware that there have been some downloads of the plans already, we nonetheless believe it is imperative to secure an injunction to prevent further, more widespread dissemination at this time and, perhaps more importantly, to prevent dissemination of any new plans for perhaps more advanced firearms in the future," he added.

On July 30, Wilson said his site was IP-blocked in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Los Angeles, meaning visitors with IP addresses in those places can't easily reach it. He also said the site had "been under attack" but that he was working on it. As of the morning of July 31, the site appeared to be up. 

On July 31, CNET confirmed that a Seattle judge granted a temporary nationwide restraining order against the State Department and Defense Distributed, and as of 4:30 p.m. PT, we no longer saw live download links on DEFCAD.com. 

It's not clear whether Defense Distributed removed them voluntarily, was ordered to do so, or whether it's a glitch, but a spokesperson for the Washington State Attorney General told CNET that the judge's order made it illegal for the links to stay up: "The TRO makes it illegal to distribute these printable files. The judge was clear that he was not ordering anyone to stop, but continuing to do so would violate the law," she said.

Download counters at DEFCAD.com suggest the gun plans had already been downloaded over 20,000 times.

You can read the full complaint below:

Full text of restraining order:

First published July 30 at 2:39 p.m. PT.
Updates, 6:03 p.m.: 
Adds the lawsuit has now officially been filed; July 31 at 8:18 a.m.: Includes response from Trump; 4:07 p.m.: Adds that the lawsuit has produced a temporary restraining order against the State Department and Defense Distributed, as well as statement from Connecticut's attorney general; 4:49 p.m.: Adds that the download links appear to have been removed; Aug. 3 at 9:05 a.m.: Adds that 11 more states have joined the suit, for a total of 19 states and DC suing the federal government.

Correction, July 31 at 10:18 a.m. PT: Clarifies that eight states are suing and 20 states are protesting.

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