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As Texas Court Considers Downloadable Guns Suit, Ultimate Responsibility to Protect Public Safety Rests with State Department


This afternoon at 2 p.m. CT, a federal judge in Texas will hear arguments over a proposed settlement between the State Department and Defense Distributed that – without intervention from the court or a reversal by the State Department – would allow Defense Distributed to fulfill its promise to post digital schematics for downloadable, untraceable guns online on Aug. 1. Attorneys representing three leading gun safety groups – Everytown, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence – will argue at the hearing that the settlement is illegal and will highlight the grave public safety risks it poses. The organizations are seeking a temporary restraining order to stop Defense Distributed from making its files available online. Regardless of the outcome, it’s important to remember that the State Department has the authority – and the responsibility – to prevent Defense Distributed from making its designs public.

As part of the settlement, the State Department agreed to give special treatment to Defense Distributed – temporarily modifying current regulations and granting a special exemption that allows the company to publish its designs on the Internet. This decision represents a complete and sudden reversal on the part of the State Department, which has argued for years that publication of these blueprints would be incredibly dangerous to national security and is prohibited under the law. Inexplicably and without the required official notice, the government then reversed its position and agreed to let Defense Distributed publish its firearm blueprints.

As if this isn’t concerning enough, the Trump Administration has proposed a rule that would permanently remove the State Department’s jurisdiction over blueprints for semi-automatic guns under .50 caliber – removing export controls for downloadable guns for that same category of guns. This major shift, which firearm manufacturers have sought for a long time and would move oversight for downloadable guns to the Commerce Department, would make it far more challenging to responsibly regulate downloadable gun technology.

The State Department has the authority to stop both these things from happening. In order to protect the public from the clear and present danger downloadable guns pose, it can and should block the publication of Defense Distributed’s blueprints by (1) abandoning the misguided settlement with Defense Distributed that will allow it to post plans online and (2) amending the proposed rule so that the State Department retains authority over downloadable guns.

For more information about the dangers of downloadable guns or further comment on today’s hearing, please don’t hesitate to reach out.