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Trump Administration Moves Forward to Spread Access to Downloadable Guns, Even After Court Found Prior Action to Be Unlawful

November 13, 2019

Trump Administration Has Now Notified Congress It Will Still Weaken Oversight of Downloadable Guns in 30 Days

NEW YORK — Yesterday, a federal court in Washington State struck down the Trump administration’s temporary modification of the U.S. Munitions List that would have allowed the online distribution of blueprints that enable anyone to 3D print untraceable, undetectable guns. In its decision, the court found that the administration’s action on downloadable guns was unlawful because it failed to provide any rationale for the sudden change in the State Department’s previous determination that downloadable guns endanger Americans by making it easier for terrorists and criminals to obtain these weapons.

Despite this admonition, the Trump administration has now made the text of a final rule available because federal law requires Congress to be notified of the final rule at least 30 days before it takes effect. The rule will enable the distribution of downloadable guns across the country by transferring jurisdiction from the Department of State to the Commerce Department. 
“Now that they’ve been smacked down by a federal court, the Trump administration should abandon its perplexing and dangerous steps to allow the proliferation of downloadable, untraceable guns,” said Jonas Oransky, legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety.

Since the initial announcement in July 2018 that downloadable guns would be released online, there has been an outpouring of opposition from state attorneys general, elected officials and Americans across the country:

  • Law enforcement officials and military veterans urged the State Department to protect public safety by blocking the publication of these blueprints; 
  • Everytown’s supporters made 24,851 calls and sent 164,436 messages to the State Department; 
  • The Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the attorneys general of nineteen other states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit to bar the government from lifting its prohibitions on companies distributing computer code for downloadable guns. The attorneys general’s legal theory was largely based on a motion initially filed by Everytown Law and other leading gun safety organizations in Texas federal court.   
  • Everytown filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the attorneys general. 

The attorneys general were successful in their lawsuit. The court found that the State Department failed to give thirty days’ notice to the Congressional foreign relations committees as required by 22 U.S.C. § 2778(f)(1). The court further found that the agency action was arbitrary and capricious for two reasons:

  • “The agency failed to consider aspects of the problem which Congress deemed important before issuing the temporary modification and letter on July 27, 2018.” 
  • The Department of State had previously determined that downloadable guns would be “a threat to world peace and the national security interests of the United States and would cause serious and long-lasting harm to its foreign policy,” and the court found that “the agency failed to identify substantial evidence in the administrative record explaining a change of position that necessarily contradicts its prior determinations and findings regarding the threats posed by [downloadable guns] and the need to regulate [them].” 

Experts are available to provide more information on downloadable guns and the litigation.

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