State Department defends allowing publication of blueprints to 3D print guns

A State Department settlement may allow for the 3D printing of guns.

ByKarolina Rivas and Conor Finnegan
July 25, 2018, 8:28 PM

Just days before digital blueprints that would allow people to 3D print firearms are set to go live online, the State Department is defending the move to allow their publication, even as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised to look into the issue.

The Trump administration recently settled with a non-profit after it sued for the right to publish the code.

While a State Department spokesperson pointed out that "the court did not rule in favor of the plaintiffs in this case," the administration settled anyway, in part, because there's no added public safety threat because "certain firearms and related items... are widely available" already, the spokesperson told ABC News.

The impending publication has garnered outrage among gun safety advocates, who warned it could create "untraceable" guns.

The controversy centers around Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson's 2013 suit against the State Department after he was forced to take down blueprints his company posted online.

After a years-long legal battle, Wilson reached a settlement with the State Department to allow his company to post designs of various firearms for 3D printers. Among these weapons is an AR-15 - a weapon commonly known to be used in mass shootings.

Wilson has been vocal on social media about his company's goal to release the designs. After the settlement was reached, Wilson tweeted a photo of a headstone with the words “American Gun Control” engraved.

In a lengthy statement, the State Department spokesperson said that the Trump administration settled because new government regulations make the case moot. The Commerce Department is taking over the regulation of certain firearms -- a change that was implemented under the Obama administration, but accelerated under the Trump administration as it seeks "to create a simpler, more robust export control system that eases industry compliance, enhances enforceability, and better protects truly sensitive technologies."

In other words, they want to ease the restrictions on firearms that are "commercially available" and strengthen protection of more important weapons technology.

As the Commerce Department takes over, the regulation that barred Wilson from publishing has ended.

But while Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday that he would “take a look at," the administration has declined to take action to block Wilson's publication – which will relaunch on August 1, according to Defense Distributed.

After a security analysis, "It was determined that 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 State Department spokesperson said -- so they don't need to block publication.

That has outraged gun safety advocates, with Sen. Ed Markey D-Mass. warning Pompeo to make sure guns “don’t get into the wrong hands.”

Military veterans from Everytown for Gun Safety Veteran Advisory Council are also calling on Pompeo to halt the distribution of the designs.

“We know firsthand the destructive power of firearms and the dangers of firearms in the wrong hands,” the letter states. “We support the federal laws that work to keep the public safe, which rely on criminal background checks to block gun possession by those who pose a danger to society. And we believe strongly that downloadable firearms will undermine those laws, [...].”

In particular, the group and other gun control advocates argue these guns are not traceable because they are produced without serial codes.

“Defense Distributed is not subtle with its aims: It has made it very clear that it intends to undermine the rule of law when it comes to firearms regulations,” military veterans from the organization wrote Pompeo. “We urge you to not to allow the distribution of downloadable guns by exemption, settlement or rule, and stop these deadly blueprints from being released.”