Attorney General James Calls on Trump Admin. to Enforce “Ghost Gun” Laws and Stop Allowing Websites to Disseminate Dangerous Information During COVID-19 Pandemic

In April 14, 2020

Federal Government Sits Idly by as Defense Distributed Violates 3D-Printed Gun Laws

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James, as part of a multistate coalition of 25 attorneys general from around the nation, has called on the Trump Administration to enforce federal laws and stop companies from disseminating dangerous files for 3D-printed gun files on the internet. In a letter to Secretary Michael Pompeo of the U.S. Department of State and United States Attorney General William Barr of the U.S. Department of Justice, Attorney General James and the coalition called on the federal government to stop the company Defense Distributed from unlawfully releasing easily downloadable files with specifications for particular guns — including the “Liberator” pistol and a number of other weapons — which would then give individuals the ability to manufacture unregistered and untraceable 3D-printed firearms that can be extremely difficult to detect, even with a metal detector. Untraceable firearms are sometimes called “ghost guns” because they lack a serial number or other identifying features.

“At a time when first responders are overrun with calls related to COVID-19, companies should be working to limit the dangers Americans face, not increasing them by publishing files that will make it easier for criminals to get guns and for anyone to print unregistered, untraceable, and, in many cases, undetectable firearms,” said Attorney General James. “Defense Distributed is attempting to take advantage of a national pandemic and is hoping states will not notice its unlawful distribution of files it knows it is barred from disseminating. We’re calling on the Trump Administration to take immediate action against Defense Distributed because ghost guns endanger every single one of us and the printing of them will only threaten to take law enforcement away from what should be their priority right now — taking care of coronavirus patients.”

In 2015, Defense Distributed — an organization dedicated to global distribution of open-source, downloadable 3D-printed guns — sued the Obama Administration after the U.S. Department of State forced the removal of the files from the internet. The federal government successfully argued before federal district and appellate courts that posting the files online would violate firearm export laws and pose a serious threat to national security and public safety. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

But in June 2018, in an abrupt reversal of past actions, the Trump Administration settled the case. As part of the settlement, the federal government agreed to allow unlimited public distribution of the downloadable files for 3D-printed guns on the internet.
In July 2018, a multistate coalition filed a lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration, and last November, a federal judge ruled that the Trump Administration’s actions were unlawful.

Despite its loss in federal court, the Trump Administration tried again to allow unlimited public distribution of these files — this time by publishing new rules that would transfer the regulation of 3D-printed guns from the U.S. Department of State to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In spite of these dangers, loopholes in Commerce regulations mean the agency will lack the power to regulate 3D-printed guns in any meaningful way — effectively allowing their unlimited distribution.

In January of this year, Attorney General James and a coalition of attorneys general led another lawsuit against the Trump Administration, asserting that the rule is unlawful for reasons similar to the ones found by the district court in earlier litigation. Last month, a federal judge granted a request for a preliminary injunction, blocking the Trump Administration from allowing 3D-printed gun files to be released on the internet.

Despite federal courts repeatedly blocking the Trump Administration from allowing for the release of these 3D-printed gun files on the internet, Defense Distributed is now trying to take advantage of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health crisis and is hoping their unlawful behavior goes unnoticed. The company has willfully violated federal laws by again making computer files for the production of 3D-printed firearms available on its website, including files for firearms that can be made with plastic and other material not detectable by standard metal detectors and that be printed with an inexpensive, commercially available 3D printer.

These files are on the United States Munitions List, and posting them on the internet without federal authorization appears to violate federal export law. Further, these files enable the automatic manufacture of functional plastic weapons, in violation of the federal Undetectable Firearms Act.

In their letter to Secretary Pompeo and Attorney General Barr, Attorney General James and the coalition ask the federal government to use both its “civil and criminal enforcement power” to stop Defense Distributed and ensure its compliance with federal laws.

“As both the State and Commerce Departments have recognized, effectively controlling the dissemination of these 3D-printed firearm files via the internet is ‘in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States,’” write the attorneys general in their letter, adding, “If the federal government fails to act, these files will be distributed widely with potentially grave consequences for our national and domestic security. The efficacy of our country’s existing metal detectors — a ubiquitous security device in our airports, schools, arenas, and public venues — will be compromised if you do not act.”

Joining Attorney General James in sending the letter to the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Justice are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
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