Judge: President, Congress should eye 3D guns

SEATTLE  — A federal judge hearing arguments over a settlement that allows a company to post online plans for printing 3D guns said the overall issue of such untraceable plastic weapons should be decided by the president or Congress.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik said Tuesday that he’ll rule on the legal issues involving the settlement between the company and the Trump administration.

He added, however, that “a solution to the greater problem is so much better suited” to the president or Congress.

Lasnik recently issued a restraining order blocking the online release of the plans. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia want the judge to make it permanent.

Washington state Assistant Attorney General Jeff Rupert argued that the government’s decision to allow Texas-based Defense Distributed to post the 3D gun plans threatens public safety and should be reversed.

A lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department disagreed, saying it’s already illegal to possess plastic guns and the government is fully committed to enforcing that law. He argued that the states are focused on the wrong statute.

Lasnik repeatedly questioned that logic, asking how the government can be vigorously enforcing a law banning plastic undetectable guns but not proactively stopping them from being made.

___

The federal agency had tried to stop a Texas company from releasing the plans online, arguing it violated export regulations. But the agency reversed itself in April and entered an agreement with the company that would allow it to post the plans. The company is owned by a self-described “crypto-anarchist” who opposes restrictions on gun ownership.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia sued and last month secured a restraining order to stop that process, and now they want to make that permanent by having the judge convert the restraining order into an injunction. They fear the plans, if disseminated online, could be used by people who are not legally permitted to buy or possess guns. Critics add that because the weapons aren’t made of metal, they would be undetectable.

Cody Wilson, owner of Austin, Texas-based Defense Distributed, has said “governments should live in fear of their citizenry.” Wilson’s lawyers have said the safety risk from the 3D weapons claimed by the states is largely exaggerated because many of the files are already online.

The U.S. Justice Department argues that federal laws already prohibit the manufacture and possession of undetectable plastic guns, and they say the issues raised in this case are different. The State Department oversees regulations involving the export of certain weapons, not domestic laws, therefore the injunction is not necessary, the Justice Department said.

“The (State) Department is tasked with determining what technology and weaponry provides a critical military or intelligence advantage such that it should not be shipped without restriction from the United States to other countries (or otherwise provided to foreigners), where, beyond the reach of U.S. law, it could be used to threaten U.S. national security, foreign policy, or international peace and stability,” the Justice Department said in its brief.

By seeking an injunction, the lawyers said, the states misunderstand the limits on the State Department’s authority. “Domestic activities that do not involve providing access to foreign persons, by contrast, are left to other federal agencies_and the states_to regulate,” the justice department argues.

The states call this argument “semantic gymnastics” and say the government’s actions could cause “drastic, irreparable harm.”

“By authorizing the unrestricted spread on the internet of downloadable guns, so that any state resident or visitor could manufacture and possess weapons without the states’ knowledge or detection, the government undercuts the states’ abilities to enforce their statutory codes,” the lawyers argue. “The government’s deregulation violates the states’ border integrity by impeding their ability to prevent weapons from entering through airports.”

After the Justice Department filed its brief opposing the injunction, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement saying plastic weapons are already illegal and are a risk to public safety. “The Department of Justice will use every available tool to vigorously enforce this prohibition,” Sessions said.

The states suing are: Washington, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.