Defense Distributed’s Cody Wilson holds a 3D-printed gun called the Liberator in his Texas shop in August 2018.
Photo: Eric Gay (AP)

A U.S. district judge in Seattle extended a ban preventing Austin, Texas-based Defense Distributed, which designs and releases digital blueprints for small arms that can be produced by 3D printers and CNC-milling machines, from continuing to do so until a lawsuit by 19 states and the District of Columbia is resolved.

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In 2015, the Barack Obama administration sued Defense Distributed. At issue was not the gun blueprints per se, but whether posting them to the worldwide internet violated the Arms Export Control Act.

President Donald Trump’s administration—which has eagerly aligned itself with the firearms lobby—recently reached a settlement the company and its “self-identified crypto-anarchist” chief Cody Wilson in which it removed all “firearms up to .50 caliber” from the State Department’s U.S. Munitions List. That settlement would have allowed Defense Distributed to keep publishing the 3D-printed guns, but U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik put a restraining order on the site shortly before the settlement would have gone into effect on August 1st.

Per Bloomberg, on Monday Lasnik extended it until the states’ lawsuit, which claims that the settlement did not include reasonable notice to the states and circumvented their Tenth Amendment right to regulate firearms, is resolved:

In Monday’s ruling, Lasnik criticized the government’s argument that the states won’t be harmed by publication of the blueprints because the federal government is committed to battling undetectable firearms. The “very purpose” of Defense Distributed’s plan is to “arm every citizen outside of the government’s traditional control mechanisms,” the judge said.

“It is the untraceable and undetectable nature of these small firearms that poses a unique danger,” Lasnik said. “Promising to detect the undetectable while at the same time removing a significant regulatory hurdle to the proliferation of these weapons — both domestically and internationally — rings hollow and in no way ameliorates, much less avoids, the harms that are likely to befall the states if an injunction is not issued.”

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Lasnik ruled that the original settlement did not follow proper procedure requiring congressional oversight of the restricted list as outlined in the Administrative Procedure Act, per Ars Technica.

Lasnik also criticized the Trump administration’s legal argument that it was merely changing export laws that do not impact states. Per Bloomberg, Lasnik ruled the case had clear domestic implications for the states in the suit and the argument it was merely an international matter was “so myopic and restrictive as to be unreasonable.”

However, the ruling did not touch on the much more complicated question of whether Defense Distributed had a right to publish the blueprints under the First Amendment, Ars Technica wrote. Lasnik reiterated that the files remained legal to own and distribute except by publishing them to the public internet, where they can be downloaded worldwide.

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As Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes has written before, federal law currently generally does not prohibit the production of non-proscribed firearms for personal use without a license as long as the gun isn’t for sale or distribution. Loopholes in federal law also allow individuals to procure receivers, the one part of a gun that requires a federal background check, in an unfinished state and complete a finished firearm themselves without the check. So-called “ghost guns,” those without serial numbers, are also legal to produce for exclusive personal use. The matter in which personal-use production occurs, whether it’s a 3D printer or a gunsmith, is not a matter of federal law, though guns that can pass by metal detectors unnoticed are banned. (State and local laws obviously vary.)

There are currently multiple bills to make untraceable or 3D-printed guns illegal on the federal level, though their fate is uncertain during a time when Congress refuses to pass any significant new gun laws. But right now, Defense Distributed’s case is really more about the legality of distributing the plans over the global internet than what one can do with them when they’re received.

“At some point this will be about smuggling tools, information, and knowledge rather than the guns themselves,” academic and DIY gunmaking expert Mark A. Tallman told Mother Jones last year.

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According to Bloomberg, Defense Distributed is reviewing its legal options in response to the decision. The files themselves remain widely available elsewhere on the internet, including third-party mirrors and file-sharing networks.

[Bloomberg]