Blueprints for 3D-printed guns will start appearing online in just six days. With the clock ticking, lawmakers and gun control groups are scrambling to block the plans, which experts fear could lead the U.S. into a new era of homemade AR-15s and other guns the government can’t trace.
Cody Wilson, a 29-year-old self-described “crypto-anarchist,” recently won the right to upload his blueprints online after the Trump administration quietly settled his yearslong lawsuit against the State Department. Wilson sued the government on free speech grounds after State Department officials ordered him to take the blueprints down in 2013 or face hefty fines and jail time.
The settlement, handed down earlier this month, gave Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed, the green light to resume uploading blueprints for 3D guns starting Aug. 1. And in the last few days, outrage over the Trump administration’s decision to settle the long-stalled case has escalated.
"Posting this material online is no different than driving to New Jersey and handing out hard-copy files on any street corner."
The settlement reversed the position taken by the Obama administration, which held that publishing blueprints for 3D-printed guns posed a threat to public safety and national security. Democratic federal and state officials have now written to the Trump administration demanding explanation for the last-minute switch, threatening to take legal action against Wilson, and even considering legislation to outlaw the publication of his blueprints.
The most promising effort to thwart Wilson’s plans came in the early hours of Thursday morning, when gun-control lobbying groups including The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed an emergency motion seeking a temporary restraining order against Wilson.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin agreed to schedule an emergency hearing for Thursday afternoon.
“The resulting settlement agreement, if carried through, threatens to undermine national security by authorizing the posting and downloading of computer files allowing the fabrication of dangerous make-at-home firearms by any person anywhere in the world,” the groups wrote in a joint letter to a federal judge in Texas, where Wilson and his company are based.
The notion of making 3D-printed guns publicly available is particularly concerning to law enforcement because, like “ghost guns” (which are assembled using DIY kits), they don’t have serial numbers. That makes them nearly impossible to trace if they’re used to commit a crime.
Also on Thursday, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, a Democrat, sent a “cease and desist” letter to Defense Distributed that threatened to take legal action against Wilson and his company if they made blueprints for 3D-printed guns available to residents of New Jersey.
“Defense Distributed’s plans to allow anyone with a 3D printer to download a code and create a fully operational gun directly threatens the public safety of New Jersey’s residents,” Grewal stated in the letter. “Posting this material online is no different than driving to New Jersey and handing out hard-copy files on any street corner. The federal government is no longer willing to stop Defense Distributed from publishing this dangerous code, and so New Jersey must step up.”
Democratic members of Congress are also ringing alarm bells.
During Wednesday’s hearing on national security issues, Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to conduct an immediate review of the Trump administration's settlement with Wilson.
“I understand that despite its ability to stop this ridiculous notion, the State Department is about to allow internet posting of do-it-yourself 3D-printable firearm blueprints,” Menendez said. “Why on earth would the Trump administration make it easier for terrorists and gunmen to produce undetectable plastic guns?”
Menendez followed up with a letter to Pompeo, asking him to reconsider that Wilson’s blueprints “runs afoul of federal law,” specifically, the International Traffic In Arms Regulations (ITAR), which governs exports.
That was the same law that the State Department initially argued Wilson had broken back in 2013, when his legal woes first began.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer was the first member of Congress to draw attention to development in Wilson’s case this week — and hinted he’d be willing to introduce legislation to remedy the situation.
“Sadly, the feds are not only shoulder-shrugging this threat to public safety by refusing to fully enforce laws already on the books, but they could be sowing the seeds of real disaster by allowing dangerous ghost gun blueprints to be shared freely online,” Schumer wrote. “I am not only sounding the alarm on this issue, but I have a message for the administration: Congress will use its powers to try and stop this madness.”
Five Democratic senators, led by Edward Markey of Massachusetts, also wrote a letter to the Justice Department, which settled the lawsuit with Wilson, demanding that attorneys provide them with a copy of the settlement, a written explanation, and a briefing, all by Aug. 1.
“This settlement is inconsistent with DOJ’s previous position and is as dangerous as it is confounding,” the senators wrote in their letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “The American people have a right to know why their government agreed to such a dangerous outcome.”
Congressman Ted Deutch of Massachusetts also took a stand. On Thursday, he sent a letter, co-signed by 40 members of Congress, to the chairs of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees, calling on them to examine the settlement.
“The Trump Administration’s decision to settle this case will only worsen the gun violence epidemic in America,” Deutch wrote. “We shouldn’t have to wait for someone to kill someone in a House office building after sneaking past security with a plastic 3D-printed gun to do something to stop this. And we can’t let another day go by allowing the paralysis and dysfunction of Congress to prevent us from making our communities safe.”
Cover image: Cody Wilson shows the first completely 3D-printed handgun, The Liberator, at his home in Austin on Friday May 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Austin American Statesman, Jay Janner)