A federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order late Tuesday to stop the release of downloadable blueprints and instructions on how to build an untraceable and undetectable plastic firearm using a 3D-printer.
The nationwide order, sought by attorneys general for eight states and the District of Columbia, blocks gun-rights activist Cody Wilson and his Texas-based company, Defense Distributors, from publishing plans for a plastic gun online, which they could have done beginning Wednesday.
It comes after Senate Democrats warned the Trump administration that the firearms could end up in the wrong hands. A 3D-printed gun doesn’t require a background check, a serial number, or a gun registration.
“As of tomorrow, anyone, including criminals and terrorists can have access to blueprints for making deadly weapons with a click of a mouse,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said Tuesday during a press conference hours before the judge’s order. “Anyone will be able to download a computer file and use a very simple process to make it possible for them to be able to make a gun.”
“It’s the ultimate gun loophole. Why buy them if you can print them at home instead?” Markey said.
“These firearms are also untraceable. They will not have a serial number for law enforcement to reference and in the case of purely plastic firearms, these firearms will be undetectable. They will pass through metal detectors without a blip, a buzz or a bell that is going off,” he went on.
For years, the State Department has argued that allowing these blueprints for 3D-printed guns to be published online would violate federal export controls because the digital codes would help facilitate the manufacturing of weapons that can be accessed freely around the globe.
The detailed designs were originally posted online in 2013, but the State Department ordered them to be taken down.
In a surprise move, the Trump administration in July settled with Wilson, the owner of the blueprints, after he sued for the right to publish the designs.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested last week that he would review the issue, in response to questions from lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But Markey said Tuesday he still hasn’t heard anything from Pompeo.
“He committed to me that he would review this decision. We are now less than 24 hours from Defense Distributed’s publishing of these blueprints online and I have yet to get an answer from Secretary Pompeo,” Markey said.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert pushed back on the outrage during a press briefing on Tuesday, and said “at least since the year 2013, these CAD files — these computer-assisted design files — have been available online” on multiple sites and “legal for U.S. citizens to actually download.”
Nauert said she wasn’t “defending that at all,” but added, “whether people like it or not, it is legal for American citizens to download this information, and so that’s why I go back and say this is a domestic gun control issue that certainly needs to be addressed” by Congress and law enforcement.
President Trump weighed in on the matter earlier Tuesday, tweeting:
“I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
Markey fired back: “No, Mr. President it doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t make any sense that YOUR justice department and YOUR state department agreed to make 3D guns available to the public.”
During a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One later Tuesday, deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the administration is “looking into the matter” and offered a statement that only reaffirms the status quo.
“It is currently illegal to own or make a wholly plastic gun of any kind, including those made on a 3D printer, the administration enforces this nearly two-decades-old law, will continue to look at all options available to us to do what is necessary to protect all Americans while also supporting the First and Second Amendment,” Gidley said.
The National Rifle Association issued a similar statement Tuesday and said undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for “30 years” regardless of what is published online.
“Many anti-gun politicians and members of the media have wrongly claimed that 3-D printing technology will allow for the production and widespread proliferation of undetectable plastic firearms. Regardless of what a person may be able to publish on the Internet, undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years. Federal law passed in 1988, crafted with the NRA’s support, makes it unlawful to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive an undetectable firearm,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director, National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action in a statement Tuesday.
Gun advocates also argue that the guns are unreliable, inaccurate, and much more expensive and difficult to make than a regular gun.
But Democrats caution that these plans would be perfect for a would-be terrorist keen on evading detection.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he blames Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the reversal.
“I’m going to give the president the benefit of a doubt. He didn’t know about it. Blame it on Jeff Sessions … [Trump] can simply attribute it to a misjudgment on the part of the Department of Justice and Secretary Pompeo can be a hero here.”
In a moving moment, Blumenthal held a poster of an image with an AR-15-style weapon with some components that were made with a 3D-printer, followed by a photo of an AR-15-style weapon that was wholly manufactured.
“Coming to a theater near you. Coming to a school near you. Coming to a sports stadium, to any public place. These ghost guns are the new wave of American gun violence,” Blumenthal said.
“You will see them around our streets, in our airports, in our train stations, they are undetectable, untraceable, forget about the TSA guarding the plane that you board. These ghost guns are a menace. The failure to ban them will mean blood on the hands of officials who have that responsibility,” he said.
Blueprints and designs on how to build a 3D-printed gun have already been readily available and posted online by anonymous sources on the “dark web.”
Democrats and gun control advocates are outraged now because the Trump administration is allowing for the detailed designs and blueprints to be legally published due to the settlement with Wilson.
“This decision is a death warrant for countless innocent men, women and children,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi argued in a statement Tuesday. “For the sake of all our safety and lives, it must be reversed immediately.”
Democrats begged Trump to reconsider.
“Donald Trump will be totally responsible for every downloadable, plastic AR-15 that will be roaming the streets of our country if he does not attack today,” Markey said.
“This is Trump’s chance to stand up to the NRA, he hasn’t done it before. His test is today,” he went on.
“Make no mistake about it. This is the doing of the Trump administration, this is part of a long pattern of letting the gun lobby getting whatever they want. Even if safety is at risk. Even if terrorists could gain the upper hand. He complains about terrorists crossing the border, but he wants to let them have guns? Undetected? What kind of hypocrisy is this?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
According to the Gun Control Act of 1968, there is no law that prohibits an individual from making a gun for his or her own personal use. A non-licensed person can also make a firearm as long as they don’t plan to sell it and they’re not a convicted felon.
But the law requires that firearms dealers must perform background checks on prospective purchasers and maintain records of all gun sales.
It is also illegal to make any firearm that cannot be detected by a metal detector, which means every firearm must contain some amount of metal. This means that a plastic 3D-printed firearm must have a metal plate inserted into the printed body.
But it’s difficult to enforce the law because 3D-printed firearms bear no serial number and are not registered.
Democrats Tuesday introduced two pieces of legislation to address these issues.
The first would make it illegal for anyone to intentionally publish a digital file online that programs a 3D-printer to automatically manufacture a firearm.
The second piece of legislation would, among other things, require that every firearm have at least one main component (e.g. the frame or barrel) made of metal.
On the news that a federal judge had temporarily halted the release of the blueprints, Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, called on Congress to take up the legislation, tweeting:
BREAKING: A federal judge just issued a temporary restraining order to block the release of blueprints for 3D-printed guns! Now we need Congress to do the right thing and pass our bill to permanently block these blueprints from ever being published.
— Senator Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) July 31, 2018
ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps and Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.