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Leading Gun Safety Groups Tell Federal Court That Settlement in Downloadable Guns Lawsuit Is Dangerous and Illegal

Settlement “Raises Issues of National Defense and National Security of the Highest Order,” Organizations Write in Joint Letter

WASHINGTON – Attorneys representing the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence have informed a Texas federal court that they anticipate filing legal action within days related to a settlement that would allow new designs for downloadable, untraceable guns to become public and available world-wide as early as August 1. The gun safety organizations urged the court to consider the public safety and national security risks posed by the settlement, which would let Defense Distributed — a company run by a self-proclaimed anarchist who wants to undermine gun safety laws — post its gun blueprints online in the form of Computer Aided Design files.

“[T]his settlement is far from ordinary,” the gun safety organizations write in a letter available here. “It is dangerous, irreparable and – as the government itself has emphatically argued for years – raises issues of national defense and national security of the highest order. It is also, we believe, illegal.”

BACKGROUND:

Within days, the U.S. State Department is preparing to allow unlimited online access to schematic designs that enable 3D printing of untraceable guns, a reckless mistake and a grave public safety hazard.

Downloadable gun technology is profoundly dangerous, allowing anyone to build untraceable firearms on demand. With gun schematics in hand, a person can print their own firearm with a commercially available 3D printer—with no criminal background check, no serial number and completely outside the licensed dealer system. The plans enable the printing of purely plastic guns, undetectable by metal detectors, which could be snuck onto an airplane or into a government building. Indeed, journalists in Israel were able to print a Defense Distributed gun and get within arm’s reach of the country’s prime minister at the government capitol.

This major expansion of downloadable guns will also undermine the work of law enforcement, who may recover unserialized—and therefore untraceable—guns at crime scenes, and find their criminal investigations stalled before they even start.

Defense Distributed—the company that is set to receive a special State Department exemption to publish downloadable gun blueprints—is run by a self-described anarchist whose stated aim is to undermine and defeat gun laws by enabling anyone to print firearms. For several years, the State Department had blocked Defense Distributed from publishing its library of gun blueprints, in the form of Computer Aided Design (“CAD”) files. The State Department had maintained these files were “technical data” on the United States Munitions List (“USML”), governed by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”)—and that they could not be published without State Department authorization.

As recently as April 2018, the government filed a motion to dismiss Defense Distributed’s suit, arguing that serious national security concerns would be implicated by publication of the CAD files. However, just a few weeks later, the government offered to grant Defense Distributed a special exemption under the terms of a settlement agreement.

In the settlement agreement, which will be made final on or before August 4, 2018, the government agrees to remove Defense Distributed’s library of 3D gun printing designs from the USML and to allow “any United States person…to access, discuss, use, reproduce, or otherwise benefit” from the designs. Before removing items from the USML, the State Department was required by law to provide 30 days’ advance notice to Congress — but Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY-16), the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has publicly stated that this has not occurred.

At the same time, the State Department has proposed a regulation that would broadly remove downloadable gun blueprints from the USML—and allow anyone to post blueprints online. The Defense Distributed settlement agreement commits the State Department to pursue a permanent regulatory change that would allow anyone to post, repost, download, distribute, and use any 3D gun printing design. The proposed ITAR regulation was posted shortly after the government agreed to the settlement. It covers exports of manufactured firearms themselves, as well as “technical data” like downloadable gun blueprints. The State Department could finalize the rule in the coming months.

The State Department has yet to acknowledge the settlement publicly, to disclose why it settled the case, or to explain what role the settlement played in the formal regulatory process.