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Judge to Congress, executive branch: Face up to problems of 3-D printed guns

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 21, 2018

SEATTLE – Congress and the Trump administration need to face up to the potential problems of guns that can be created by 3-D printers from files off the internet, a federal judge said Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik had tough questions for the Justice Department attorney who tried to defend a recent change in the Arms Export Control Act that would allow files to be posted on the internet by their creator, saying the undetectable and untraceable guns mean the United States “could end up with other 9-11 situations.”

Attorney Steven Meyers had said the federal government agreed the guns do pose a danger, but the federal government and the states – which are trying to keep the files off the internet – have laws in place to deal with those dangers if they occur.

Lasnik seemed unconvinced: “We don’t just wait for heroin to be produced and try to find it,” he said. Instead, the government tries to stop people from producing the drug.

Washington, 18 other states and the District of Columbia are suing the federal government for its decision to remove the files to create the guns from a list that would essentially allow them to be easily accessible on the internet. Earlier this year, it decided to lift the ban on exporting certain weapons that were less than .50 caliber and not automatic, under the theory that those weapons are readily available at stores.

Last month, Lasnik issued a temporary restraining order to keep the files from being released by Defense Distributed, the company that created them.

On Tuesday, attorneys for the states were asking him to extend the order, while the federal government and an attorney for the company argued it should be lifted. Lasnik said he’d make his decision on extending the ban by Monday, the day before the temporary restraining order is set to expire.

Lasnik called the case the most significant he’s had as a federal judge. He said it wasn’t his job to decide the larger issues behind the potential for easy access to 3-D guns, but to determine whether the rules were followed.

“This is an issue that should be solved by the political branches of government,” he said. “I wish the legislative and executive branches would step up to this.”

The federal government’s proposed changes to the arms export list reversed a 5-year-old ban on placing the plans on the internet. Jeffrey Rupert, an assistant Washington attorney general, argued the federal government didn’t follow the proper procedures for making that change, that its ruling was arbitrary and could result in substantial harm to the state residents.

The federal government previously defended the ban by saying terrorist groups could use the guns against the United States, Rupert said. They wouldn’t be detected by metal detectors at airports, prisons or schools.

“If the school has a 3-D printer, the gun could be printed in school,” he said.

Chad Flores, an attorney for Defense Distributed, said the current ban fails to recognize that the files already are available,

“The cat is out of the bag,” Flores said. “My clients could mail the plans to anyone in the country and violate no laws.”

Rupert countered: “It’s one thing to have them out there on the far reaches of the internet. It’s another thing to have them readily available.”

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