Sharing 3D-printed gun blueprints online is illegal again

Court gavel
(Image credit: Pixabay)

A deal reached by the Trump administration that allowed design blueprints for 3D-printed guns to be published online has been overturned, after being judged to violate federal law.

As Bloomberg reports, District Judge Robert Lasnik decided that the State Department failed to give a proper explanation last year when it previously overturned a ruling dating back to the Obama administration which stopped Defense Distributed from making its blueprints available online.

Lasnik observed: “No findings of fact or other statements are provided in the settlement agreement [to allow the blueprints for 3D-printed guns online] that address, much less invalidate, the federal government’s prior analysis regarding the likely impacts of publication on national security or world peace or that otherwise explain the federal government’s change of position.”

Defense Distributed argued that making these CAD files available online was a matter of free speech.

However, Lasnik did not agree, finding the Trump administration’s reversal of the previous ruling “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore that “it is unlawful and must be set aside”.

Lasnik further noted that aspects of the problem which Congress deemed important were not considered.

Safety first

In a statement concerning Lasnik’s ruling, Attorney General Letitia James commented: “This ruling is a vindication of sound decision-making on matters that would have a profound impact on public safety. Without question, the release of step-by-step instructions for the production of untraceable and undetectable firearms would threaten the safety of not only our nation’s residents, but people around the globe.

“The court ultimately found the Trump Administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it determined to move forward with such a plan, and we completely agree.”

Defense Distributed is set to appeal the decision, and the lawyer for the company, Chad Flores, observed: “The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech from all abridgment, including indirect censorship efforts like this one. And states aren’t allowed to commandeer the federal government to do their unconstitutional bidding, even under the guise of statutory technicalities.”

So the battle seems set to rumble on, and it’s possible that Defense Distributed will work around any judgement as it has done in the past, by sending out said digital blueprints via regular mail rather than distributing them online.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).