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Trump Administration Sued by States Over 3D-Printed-Gun Rule

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 1/24/2020 Erik Larson

(Bloomberg) -- A group of U.S. states sued the Trump administration over a proposed regulatory change they say would let anyone with a 3D printer, including criminals and terrorists, make firearms at home.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Seattle, alleges that the change in regulation -- shifting oversight from the State Department to the Commerce Department -- would violate the Administrative Procedure Act and make it easier to publish digital files for such weapons online.

“These 3D-printed weapons are unregistered, untraceable, and, in many cases, undetectable,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is part of the coalition, said in a statement. “While the president and his administration know these homemade weapons pose an imminent threat, he continues to cater to the gun lobby -- risking the lives of millions of Americans.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the change would put airports, government buildings and schools at risk because such weapons are generally made from materials that can escape normal methods of detection.

“The Trump administration should focus on reducing violence, not making it easier for criminals to get their hands on untraceable and undetectable ghost guns,” Becerra said.

Read More: Trump’s Deal Allowing 3D-Printed Guns Online Deemed Illegal

The Commerce Department didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

In November, a federal judge in Seattle ruled in a related lawsuit that the State Department didn’t give the public a proper explanation in 2018 when it reversed an Obama-era position that blocked a small gun-technology company called Defense Distributed from publishing computer-aided design files for guns on the internet.

According to the states, the Commerce Department acknowledges that the distribution of files for 3D-printed guns poses a threat, but fails to prohibit the practice. The new rule notes that such weapons “could be easily used in the proliferation of conventional weapons, the acquisition of destabilizing numbers of such weapons, or for acts of terrorism,” according to James’s statement.

“In spite of these dangers, loopholes in Commerce regulations mean the agency will lack the power to regulate 3D-printed guns in any meaningful way -- effectively allowing their unlimited distribution,” James said.

Read More: Is a Printed Gun Free Speech? It’s Not a 1791 Right to Arms

The states allege the change would give the Commerce Department discretion to grant licenses to post 3D-printed gun files to the internet or export them without congressional oversight.

The administration of President Barack Obama had blocked the company’s effort to publish the files for years, arguing it would violate an arms-export law. But the State Department in June 2018 gave Defense Distributed the green light by settling a lawsuit with the company in a Texas court. The company’s website called it “our most famous victory.”

Cody Wilson, who started the Austin, Texas-based company, said in a December interview that he isn’t concerned about 3D-printed guns being abused in crimes.

“I have had the occasion now to see if 3D-printed firearms would change how crimes were committed or require changes to security and I don’t think it’s happened,” he said. “I don’t think it’s interrupted peoples’ life experiences.”

(Updates with details from the complaint.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at, Peter Jeffrey, Joe Schneider

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