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Most Telling Lines from Court Decision on Downloadable Guns

August 27, 2018

Today, a federal court in Seattle extended a nationwide injunction that is temporarily blocking the distribution of downloadable guns online. The suit, which 20 attorneys general have signed on to as plaintiffs, asks the court to bar the government from lifting its prohibitions on online posting of blueprints for downloadable guns. Read on for highlights from the court’s 25-page decision.

The court’s decision is based in large part on previous statements from the federal government detailing the dangers downloadable guns pose to the public. The decision states, “No findings of fact or other statements are provided in the [settlement] agreement that could explain the federal government’s dramatic change of position or that address, much less invalidate, its prior analysis regarding the likely impacts of publication on the United States’ national security interests.” (Page 6)

The court rejected the federal government’s argument that the attorneys general did not have standing to bring the case because their concerns were domestic in nature, while the federal regulations being considered are limited to export control. In response to this argument, the court stated, “Defendants’ argument is so myopic and restrictive as to be unreasonable. Whatever defendants’ statutory authority, the fact is that the internet is both domestic and international.” (Page 10)

The court concluded that the state attorneys general who brought the case are likely to succeed. The court argued that the federal government’s actions were likely “arbitrary and capricious” because “there is no indication that the [State] Department considered the unique properties of 3D plastic guns or evaluated the factors Congress deemed relevant when the Department decided to authorize the posting of the CAD files on the internet.” (Page 17)

The court pointed to the “irreparable harm” of downloadable guns several times. “The plaintiff States and the District of Columbia, as sovereigns, represent more than 160 million people, many of whom have seen the threat level of their daily lives increase year after year. … School shootings involving students of all ages have occurred in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, Illinois, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Maryland, Iowa, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, and New Jersey during the past twenty years. During the same time frame, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland have experienced workplace shootings with multiple victims. … Plaintiffs have a legitimate fear that adding undetectable and untraceable guns to the arsenal of weaponry already available will likely increase the threat of gun violence they and their people experience.” (Pages 21-22)

Today’s decision strongly suggests that the federal government’s broader proposal to deregulate blueprints for downloadable guns could be struck down in court. The court suggests that the State Department acted improperly in granting a temporary regulatory modification that allowed for the posting of blueprints online and that the broader regulatory process is deficient because the State Department failed to properly consider the impact of allowing the blueprints to be published. The State Department should reverse course and amend its proposed rule to remove 3D guns – and continue to ban publication online.

Meanwhile, Congress should take action now as the courts continue to consider this issue. Congress must pass legislation to permanently prohibit the posting of any blueprints for downloadable guns.

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