A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction barring the online distribution of CAD files for 3D printed guns, upholding a temporary injunction issued in late July.
"We just won a preliminary injunction in federal court, continuing to block the Trump admin from allowing the distribution of 3D-printed gun files," said New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood via Twitter. "We will not allow the federal government to endanger New Yorkers."
The ruling follows from a complaint filed in July by eight attorneys general and the District of Columbia to prevent the federal government from allowing Austin, Texas-based Defense Distributed to publish digital plans that can be used for produce guns from rapid prototyping machines.
The complaint from the states follows years of legal wrangling over the distribution of schematics for creating guns on 3D printing machines, one aspect of a larger debate over gun regulation loopholes.
In 2012, the US State Department banned Defense Distributed, run by Cody Wilson, from publishing gun CAD files under international arms control rules. Defense Distributed then sued the State Department claiming its First, Second, and Fifth Amendment rights had been violated. A settlement was reached in July that revised federal rules to allow the distribution of gun CAD files.
That's when the states stepped in, arguing that the feds violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution (which says powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution reside with the states).
The states and the District of Columbia argue federal rulemaking should not trump their firearms control laws.
Once more round the roundabout
On Monday, US District Court Judge Robert Lasnik granted the states' motion to issue a preliminary injunction – a more considered and presumably more durable version of the temporary order.
Judge Lasnik in his ruling observes that the legal battle raises important issues, like whether computer code is speech, but he declines to tackle those issues and instead presumes that Defense Distributed has a First Amendment right to publish CAD files.
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That right is not absolute however. The judge acknowledges that the First Amendment rights claimed by Defense Distributed may be diminished through the injunction but they are not eliminated. He points out that while the gun CAD files cannot be uploaded to the internet, "they can be emailed, mailed, securely transmitted, or otherwise published within the United States."
"The Court finds that the irreparable burdens on the private defendants’ First Amendment rights are dwarfed by the irreparable harms the States are likely to suffer if the existing restrictions are withdrawn and that, overall, the public interest strongly supports maintaining the status quo through the pendency of this litigation," Judge Lasnik wrote in his ruling.
The status quo appears to be the wide online availability of 3D CAD files for guns, despite the court's ban and recent policy changes at Amazon and Reddit to prevent the distribution of the offending files.
Earlier this month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said the argument advanced by the states is dangerous because it seeks to make government officials arbiters of what can be said online, a state of affairs that could limit discussions of artificial intelligence technologies, defenses against chemical weapons, or secure communications.
Cody Wilson, in an email to The Register, ridiculed the ruling. "The order is a farcical, manifest injustice," he said "The order literally admits to being an abridgment of the freedom of speech, even using that word. I will take this to the Ninth Circuit and beyond I'm sure." ®