Gun control groups lost an emergency bid Friday to block a Texas organization from posting instructions to 3-D print a gun online.
The firm, a non-profit called Defense Distributed, had reached a settlement with the State Department last month that would allow it to publish the plans for their plastic handgun called “The Liberator” on their website — five years after the government first made the group take them down.
The single-shot pistol was made almost entirely out of ABS plastic — the same material Lego bricks are made from — that could be made on a 3-D printer. The only metal parts were the firing pin and a piece of metal included to comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act.
The move to try and intervene in the case by three leading gun organizations — The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords, a group founded by former Rep Gabby Giffords — was a last-ditch attempt to thwart Defense Distributed ahead of its expected online release of the blueprints on August 1.
In a filing, a Texas federal judge faulted the groups for failing to prove that they were actually a legitimate party to the case.
Josh Blackman, a lawyer for Defense Distrbuted, said he was “very pleased” with the court’s ruling in an email Friday evening.
The multi-year legal battle ended in late June when the US State Department reversed course and agreed to strip the official rules upholding the ban on posting the plans. In 2013, the State Department had said the plans could violate International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), potentially allowing someone in a country to which the US doesn’t sell weapons to download the material and make their own gun. The government had won several rounds of litigation brought by Defense Distributed and its founder, Cody Wilson.
On Friday, the State Department posted a notice temporarily modifying the US Munitions List to exclude the “technical data” at the center of the lawsuit, paving the way for its legal publication.
A State Department spokesman told CNN the June settlement came after a national security analysis that determined “certain firearms and related items that are widely available for commercial sale, and technical data related to those items, is of a type that does not offer a critical military or intelligence advantage to the United States.”
The spokesman added that the US government is currently reviewing plans to transfer oversight of firearm exports from State to the Commerce Department, which would eliminate the ITAR requirements that had initially prevented the uploading of the gun production plans.
News of the settlement was met with shock and alarm by some lawmakers and law enforcement officials, and gun control advocates have filed Freedom of Information Act requests for emails and other documents related to the settlement.
Pressed by Democratic senators at a hearing earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would “take a look at” the issue.
“I don’t think that we really want to be in a world where Hamas in the Gaza has an ability to download a capacity for an AR-15 that could endanger security in that region, and the same thing could happen around the world,” Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey said.
“You have my commitment. I’ll take a look at it,” Pompeo replied.
The top city prosecutors in New York and Los Angeles blasted the settlement as an “unconscionable mistake.”
“No one is safer if criminals can print untraceable guns on demand,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., co-chairs of the Prosecutors Against Gun Violence group ,said in a statement.
“Allowing this exemption from federal rules would be an unconscionable mistake, making it all-too-easy for anyone with a dangerous history — including terrorists and domestic abusers who cannot pass a background check — to download files and print a functional gun with 3D printers available to any consumer. This decision undermines the critical public safety laws that prosecutors enforce day in and day out,” the statement said.