An Austin-based business’ plan to release blueprints for plastic guns that can be manufactured using a 3D printer was temporarily put on hold by a federal judge in Seattle. The judge set a hearing for Aug. 10 to determine whether the temporary restraining order granted Tuesday should be converted to a preliminary injunction.
According to court documents, the company behind the blueprints, Defense Distributed, reached a settlement in June in a lawsuit it had brought against the U.S. government. The settlement allowed for the release of the plans. The temporary restraining order blocking the release was granted July 30 but the blueprints to make the guns had apparently already been posted online once the settlement was reached.
Elected officials and gun control advocates raised alarm when it was revealed that the blueprints to make the guns would be released. A motion by gun control groups to intervene in the case and for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the settlement was denied by a judge on July 27.
However, a lawsuit brought by eight states and the District of Columbia was successful in getting the temporary restraining order.
As the issue plays out in the courts, here are five things to know about the controversy surrounding 3D-printed guns:
Why haven’t the blueprints been released before?
Prior to the settlement reached between the government and Defense Distributed, the State Department ordered the group’s founder, Cody Wilson, to take down the designs once he posted them on the group’s website.
In a letter to Wilson in May 2013, the State Department said the designs released by the group may be subject to controls under International Traffic in Arms Regulations rules. The letter explained that ITAR imposes certain requirements and restrictions on the transfer of, and access to, controlled defense articles and related technical data designated by the United States Munitions List. The letter said the data made available by Defense Distributed appeared to be related to items in category 1 of the list.
In granting the temporary restraining order, the court explained the background in the case. According to the court document, the government advised Defense Distributed to get a determination from the Directorate of Defense Trade Control within the State Department on whether the files were subject to export controls under ITAR. The office determined that the information did fall under export controls and a request for preliminary injunction filed by the company was denied in the courts. The Supreme Court said it wouldn’t take up the case before the government settled in June. It’s unknown why the government decided to settle the case.
“No findings of fact or other statements are provided in the agreement that could explain the federal government’s dramatic change of position or that alter its prior analysis regarding the likely impacts of publication on the United States’ national security interests,” Judge Robert S. Lasnik, a senior judge for the U.S. District Court for Washington’s Western District, wrote in the order granting the temporary restraining order.
Thousands of the blueprints were reportedly already downloaded before the judge’s order
According to a news report in The Huffington Post, a website for Defense Distributed appeared to have posted posted designs to seven different firearms on Tuesday. HuffPo noted that that per the terms of the settlement, the State Department gave the company the go-ahead to begin publishing the files on Friday. The blueprints went live shortly afterwards.
According to HuffPo, more than 4,500 files had been downloaded as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Trump administration has expressed concern about the release of the blueprints
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he is looking into the issue.
“I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public,” Trump tweeted. “Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
After Trump’s tweet on Tuesday, deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters that the administration supports the nearly two-decade-old law that makes it illegal to own or make a wholly plastic gun of any kind, including those made on a 3D printer.
Gidley was referring to The Undetectable Firearms Act. According to Vox, the law bans guns that can’t be spotted by walk-through metal detectors. However, as Vox noted, a workaround to the law would be adding a piece of metal to the firearm.
The National Rifle Association also issued a statement saying undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years.
And on Wednesday, the day after the judge’s ruling, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the Justice Department didn’t consult Trump before settling the lawsuit.
What else is being done to address the issue?
Democrats in the Senate and the House have introduced legislation. The legislation in the Senate, which would ban the blueprints from being posted online, has already been blocked. Separate legislation has also been introduced in the House that would ban 3D printed guns.
How easy would it be to make a 3D printed gun?
According to The Guardian, the high quality 3D printer needed to make a 3D gun can cost $10,000 or more The paper reported that a typical desktop 3D printer would not be up to the task. One expert told the paper that there may actually be a greater danger to the person holding such a gun.
Unlike traditional firearms that can fire thousands of rounds in their lifetime, 3D-printed guns are notorious for usually lasting only a few rounds before they fall apart. They don’t have magazines that allow the usual nine or 15 rounds to be carried; instead, they usually hold a bullet or two and then must be manually loaded afterward. And they’re not usually very accurate either.
A video posted of a test by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2013 showed one of the guns produced from Wilson’s design — the Liberator — disintegrating into pieces after a single round was fired.
Reporting from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Photo screenshot via YouTube
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