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Judge Blocks Trump Administration From Allowing 3D-Printed Guns, Again

Illustration for article titled Judge Blocks Trump Administration From Allowing 3D-Printed Guns, Again
Photo: Getty

The Trump administration continues to fail at making blueprints for untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed firearms free and easy for anyone to attain. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that Trump’s State Department could not allow plans for such guns to be posted online, claiming that it had circumvented Congress in deciding such a thing was okay. The administration even failed to offer a “reasoned explanation,” he said, for why something like this would ever be okay.

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Robert Lasnik, judge of the United States District Court in Seattle, is not new to this case. He’s the same federal judge who issued an injunction against the Trump administration last July, after a settlement between the State Department and Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, reversed a long-standing State Department ban on posting 3D-printed gun plans online. Defense Distributed is the organization that architected these 3D-printed gun blueprints in 2012 and has been advocating for making them easy to download.

The State Department restricted the distribution of these plans starting in 2013, but Defense Distributed has been battling them in court for years. After the Trump administration reversed the State Department’s established policy last year, Washington State, 18 other states, and Washington DC sued to keep the blueprints off the internet, which is what led Lasnik to issue that injunction. Now, he’s ruled to block the publication of the blueprints entirely, claiming that the actions of Trump’s State Department were “arbitrary and capricious… unlawful and must be set aside.” Lasnik said that the agency should have given Congress advance notice about its settlement with Wilson, rather than simply reversing any longstanding policy.

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“The Department of State concluded that the worldwide publication of computerized instructions for the manufacture of undetectable firearms was a threat to world peace and the national security interests of the United States and would cause serious and long-lasting harm to its foreign policy,” Judge Lasnik said in a 25-page order.

That certainly seems like a troubling conclusion. The Trump administration said that it would “review the Washington court’s order.” Defense Distributed, on the other hand, is up in arms. The organization has claimed that blocking the publication of its 3D-printed gun blueprints violate the First and Second Amendments. Judge Lasnik, meanwhile, claimed in his order that the Trump administration “has not attempted to justify its action as compelled by the First Amendment.”

“With today’s unprecedented ruling, a few rogue state officials have commandeered the State Department to do their unconstitutional bidding nationwide,” said Chad Flores, a lawyer for Defense Distributed. “Defense Distributed will be appealing and fully expects a swift reversal.”

(Side note: According to Webster’s Dictionary, the adjective “rogue” means “of or being a nation whose leaders defy international law or norms of international behavior.” So Flores’ calling out “rogue state officials” is certainly an attempt at a pun, but it actually makes it sound like he’s referring to the Trump administration as “rogue,” which is the opposite of what he probably means.)

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From here, the battle over whether anyone with access to a 3D-printer and basic materials should be able to download blueprints and print a deadly firearm will soldier on. Many would argue that it’s a meaningless battle, since it’s arguably harder to gain access to a good 3D printer than it is to go to a local gun show and buy an AR-15 with cash. Others would argue against this, as hundreds of local public libraries now offer access to 3D printers. Defense Distributed itself has demonstrated how easy these 3D-printed guns are to print, and how well they can fire deadly bullets. Earlier this year, a British college student was also convicted of manufacturing a 3D-printed gun after watching how-to videos online. A prop maker at The Lion King was arrested in September, after allegedly 3D-printing guns in the prop room of the show’s Broadway theater.

“It is baffling that the Trump Administration continued to work so hard to allow domestic abusers, felons and terrorists access to untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed guns,” Bob Ferguson, attorney general of Washington, said following this week’s order.

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Somehow, this might be the least baffling thing we hear from the Trump administration this week.

Senior editor at Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

Ravenous Sophovore

Honestly, as someone with a 3D printer, while 3D printing guns sounds scary, it’s probably most dangerous to the person printing it, not everyone else. A single defect in your print could cause the whole damn thing to explode in your hand, and defects in prints happen something like 90% of the time, in my experience. You would need not only a very high end printer (and probably modified to print something more exotic than the standard ABS or PLA filaments) but rigorous QA and a working knowledge of the engineering involved to make anything approaching safe to contain a small explosion in your hand.

3D printing is hard. It’s hard to get the temperature right, the speed right, the layer size right, the build platform temperature right... Even once you have all the setting exactly right for whatever you’re printing and whatever you’re printing with, you’ll still get defects small and large in your print.

And that’s before you consider that the model you downloaded could have any number of design flaws that you may find out about the hard way. You don’t know the qualifications of the person who created it or how thoroughly it was tested before being made available to everyone. If your Thingiverse downloaded toy has a design flaw, the worst that will happen is that it breaks when you use it and you’re out a toy and a couple bucks worth of filament. If a gun breaks when you use it, that can be serious or even fatal.

That’s not to say this couldn’t become a problem down the road and that we shouldn’t be looking to the future, of course.