Handguns sit on display at ABQ Guns in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S. (Photographer: Sergio Flores/Bloomberg)

Trump Blasted 3-D Guns But U.S. Isn’t Fighting to Stop Them

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration is pushing in court for unfettered public access to blueprints for making guns with 3-D printers even after the president tweeted that they don’t "seem to make much sense."

The courtroom battle is escalating, with 19 states and the District of Columbia trying to block publication of the instructions that they say will allow people to make plastic guns at home, bypassing stores and background checks. They claim the firearms will be untraceable, and easily available to criminals and terrorists.

As Democrats in Congress prepare bills to ban the online posting of the blueprints, the Trump administration staked out its latest position in a court filing late Wednesday. The State Department urged a federal judge in Seattle to lift his order that’s acting as the last barrier to the weapon-making instructions being released.

On July 31, the day the judge temporarily blocked release of the blueprints, President Donald Trump said in a Twitter post that he’d discussed the issue with the National Rifle Association. “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public,” Trump said. “Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

The states have pounced on the contradiction between the president and his own administration.

“President Trump says he objects to making 3D-printed guns widely available to anyone, regardless of whether they’re a felon or a terrorist," Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in an emailed statement Thursday. "Then why is his administration still moving forward to pursue that very policy? Somebody should ask the president who’s really in charge.”

The State Department argued in Wednesday’s filing that there’s no legal basis to block availability of the instructions on the internet, and no need for such regulation.

The states “misunderstand” limits on the State Department’s authority to prevent the harm they warn against, according to the filing. Unless the technology or weapons at issue pose a threat to national security by falling into the hands of foreigners, the government argued, it’s up to other federal agencies and states to regulate them.

“The domestic harms about which plaintiffs are allegedly concerned are not properly regulated by the department under current law,” the U.S. said.

Government lawyers also argued that federal law already prohibits firearms that can’t be detected by metal detectors and x-ray machines.

“Such firearms present a significant risk to public safety, and the Department of Justice will use every available tool to vigorously enforce this prohibition,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Thursday.

Firearm Export Laws

The administration of former President Barack Obama initially argued, successfully in court, that the manuals for 3-D guns violate firearm export laws. The Trump administration backed that theory until as recently as April, the states have said.

In late June, the State Department arrived at a settlement allowing Austin-based Defense Distributed to post instructions for printing firearm parts. The nonprofit group’s founder, Cody Wilson, argued in court that the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantee gave him the right to upload the computer code containing gun-printing instructions.

At the urging of the Democrat-led states and gun control groups, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik agreed on July 31 to temporarily block the blueprints from going public. Lasnik is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on whether to extend his order until the litigation is resolved.

The case is State of Washington v. U.S. Department of State, 18-cv-01115, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (Seattle).

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