New Jersey’s Attorney General on Thursday took the first step toward trying to prevent residents from being able to make their own guns using a 3-D printer, saying the technology “threatens public safety” in a state with among the toughest gun control laws in the nation.
The state’s action is the latest effort to stop the public release via the internet of plans for “printable” guns. Three major national gun control organizations — Everytown for Gun Safety, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence — were in federal court in Texas yesterday trying to keep the information offline by arguing that a court settlement allowing the distribution of the plans is illegal.
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal sent a letter to technology company Defense Distributed, of Texas, ordering the company to “cease and desist from publishing printable-gun computer files for use by New Jersey residents.” The company’s website states that it has settled a multi-year federal lawsuit with the U.S. Department of State regarding its DEFCAD files and it plans to make that material available for download next Wednesday — enabling those who sign up to “print” 10 guns, including an AR-15 assault weapon like those used in many recent mass shootings across the country.
“The age of the downloadable gun formally begins,” proclaims Defense Distributed’s main web page, which states its development of private defense tech is “in the public interest.”
Rather than helping the public, Grewal said DEFCAD “directly threatens the public safety of New Jersey’s residents” and threatened legal action against the company before its announced August 1 date to start allowing downloads unless it halts its plans to make the files available.
Creating untraceable firearms
“The files you plan to publish offer individuals, including criminals, codes that they can use to create untraceable firearms — and even to make assault weapons that are illegal in my state,” Grewal wrote in his letter.
Cody Wilson, a Texas man who founded Defense Distributed and is a self-described anarchist, does not seem to care about the potential implications of distributing the files. In a recent interview with Wired magazine, Wilson is quoted as saying, “All this Parkland stuff, the students, all these dreams of ‘common sense gun reforms’? No. The internet will serve guns, the gun is downloadable. No amount of petitions or die-ins or anything else can change that.”
Wilson also tweeted on July 10 a picture of a tombstone reading “American Gun Control.”
— Cody R. Wilson (@Radomysisky) July 10, 2018
Federal government stands down
Grewal is concerned, saying, “The federal government is no longer willing to stop Defense Distributed from publishing this dangerous code, and so New Jersey must step up.”
He is not the only one. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) asked the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the issue during Pompeo’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
“I understand that despite its ability to stop this ridiculous notion, the State Department is about to allow internet posting of do-it-yourself, 3-D printable firearm blueprints,” Menendez said. “Why on earth would the Trump administration make it easier for terrorists and gunmen to produce undetectable plastic guns? I remain deeply concerned by the administration’s incoherent and contradictory views.”
Pompeo said he would investigate the matter, but later a spokesman for the State Department was quoted by news organizations as saying that firearms are already widely available so there is no additional threat from 3-D guns.
According to the gun-control organizations, the State Department had prevented the release of the gun files by calling them “technical data” governed by international regulations and only the department could approve their publication. Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation filed a lawsuit, which had remained pending until the government settled a few months ago. The groups contend that the State Department was required to notify Congress 30 days before providing easy access to the gun designs but failed to do so.
‘First Amendment victory’
Shortly after the settlement was announced, Alan M. Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the foundation, praised the settlement and particularly its allowing files for a printable AR-15 to be made public.
“Not only is this a First Amendment victory for free speech, it also is a devastating blow to the gun prohibition lobby,” he said in a statement. “For years, anti-gunners have contended that modern semi-automatic sport-utility rifles are so-called ‘weapons of war,’ and with this settlement, the government has acknowledged they are nothing of the sort.”
A 3-D “printer” can create virtually any shape or part by translating specification files from a computer into a solid object, using materials ranging from plastic to steel to food deposited in layers to create a structure.
Defense Distributed developed gun computer files that enable consumers to create fully operational firearms with a 3-D printer. Wilson, the company’s founder, developed a printable plastic pistol known as the “Liberator .380” in 2012 and put the plans online, but the federal government blocked his effort to distribute those plans to the public. Wilson sued and a settlement with the U.S. State Department allows his company to begin releasing its files next Wednesday.
Grewal said Wilson’s company plans to “make do-it-yourself guns available to anyone, even if the individuals are prohibited from owning guns because of prior convictions, history of mental illness, or history of domestic violence, even if the weapons they print are illegal in my state, and even if they plan to use their weapons to further crimes and acts of violence.”
The release of such plans has the potential to circumvent strong gun control laws in states across the country. Grewal said they “violate New Jersey law,” which provides that anyone “who interferes with public health, safety, peace, and comfort” is considered a public nuisance and thus in violation of state law.
Defense Distributed did not return a request for comment.