Appeals court nixes online blueprint sharing ban on 3D-printed 'ghost guns'

Biden administration rules expected in the next week or so


A federal appeals court in America has overturned a district court order preventing plans for 3D-printed guns from being shared online.

In a ruling [PDF] on Tuesday, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction obtained in March 2020 by 22 states and the District of Columbia that blocked a State Department rule change removing 3D-printed guns and associated digital files from the US Munitions List, which enumerates controlled weaponry.

The decision means that 3D-printed guns and the digital blueprints to make them can be lawfully distributed, at least until the Biden administration weighs in, as is expected shortly.

In early April, the White House said that within 30 days, the Justice Department "will issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of 'ghost guns.'" The term refers to the lack of serial numbers on 3D-printed guns, which makes them difficult to trace.

The 3D-printed gun saga dates back to 2013 when a company called Defense Distributed began distributing CAD files for creating guns using 3D printers and subsequently withdrew the files, which remained online elsewhere, after the State Department said the business might face charges for violating arms control laws.

Then in July 2018, Defense Distributed reached a settlement with the State Department to distribute its CAD files, only to face another legal challenge from eight attorneys general and the District of Columbia. (The following year, the company's founder was sentenced to seven years of probation for having sex with a minor.)

Parts for the Liberator 3D printed pistol1

'Liberator': Proof that you can't make a working gun in a 3D printer

FROM THE ARCHIVE

The State Department in 2018 proposed removing 3D-printed guns and related files from the US Munitions list and when its rule was finally adopted on March 9, 2020, the 22 States and the District of Columbia sued to block the State Department rule.

The district court hearing that challenge granted the States' injunction on the basis that the States seemed likely to prevail in their claim that the State Department under the Trump administration had violated the Administrative Procedure Act by adopting the rules without any judicial review.

However, the appeals court concluded that the decision to remove ghost guns from the US Munitions List by the Department of State and Department of Commerce is exempt from review.

In 1976, Congress authorized the President to “designate those items which shall be considered defense articles,” the appellate opinion explains, and in the AntiTerrorism and Arms Export Amendments Act of 1989, lawmakers declared that the President's designation of defense items on the US Munitions List is not subject to judicial review.

At least that's the opinion of two US Circuit Judges, Jay Bybee, appointed by George W. Bush, and Ryan Nelson, appointed by Donald Trump.

A third judge hearing the appeal, US District Judge Robert Whaley, appointed by Bill Clinton, dissented, noted in his dissent that in 1981 Congress placed a limitation on the President's ability to remove items from the Munitions List, which creates a legal distinction between adding items to the list and removing them. His view is that taking items off the list should qualify for judicial review.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, among those trying to block State Department rule change, has not yet decided how to respond. "We are currently reviewing the decision and evaluating our next steps," a spokesperson told The Register in email.

Gun news site The Reload last week posted what it claims are draft rules being formulated by the Justice Department to amend the definition of various firearm components to cover privately-made guns, or ghost guns. The purported changes would not prevent people from printing guns but would make sellers of privately-made guns subject to record-keeping and marking requirements.

According to the posted document, law enforcement officers between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2020, have recovered 23,906 privately-made firearms at potential crime scenes, including 325 homicides or attempted homicides, based on data from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. ®

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Verizon: Ransomware sees biggest jump in five years
    We're only here for DBIRs

    The cybersecurity landscape continues to expand and evolve rapidly, fueled in large part by the cat-and-mouse game between miscreants trying to get into corporate IT environments and those hired by enterprises and security vendors to keep them out.

    Despite all that, Verizon's annual security breach report is again showing that there are constants in the field, including that ransomware continues to be a fast-growing threat and that the "human element" still plays a central role in most security breaches, whether it's through social engineering, bad decisions, or similar.

    According to the US carrier's 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) released this week [PDF], ransomware accounted for 25 percent of the observed security incidents that occurred between November 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021, and was present in 70 percent of all malware infections. Ransomware outbreaks increased 13 percent year-over-year, a larger increase than the previous five years combined.

    Continue reading
  • Slack-for-engineers Mattermost on open source and data sovereignty
    Control and access are becoming a hot button for orgs

    Interview "It's our data, it's our intellectual property. Being able to migrate it out those systems is near impossible... It was a real frustration for us."

    These were the words of communication and collaboration platform Mattermost's founder and CTO, Corey Hulen, speaking to The Register about open source, sovereignty and audio bridges.

    "Some of the history of Mattermost is exactly that problem," says Hulen of the issue of closed source software. "We were using proprietary tools – we were not a collaboration platform before, we were a games company before – [and] we were extremely frustrated because we couldn't get our intellectual property out of those systems..."

    Continue reading
  • UK government having hard time complying with its own IR35 tax rules
    This shouldn't come as much of a surprise if you've been reading the headlines at all

    Government departments are guilty of high levels of non-compliance with the UK's off-payroll tax regime, according to a report by MPs.

    Difficulties meeting the IR35 rules, which apply to many IT contractors, in central government reflect poor implementation by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and other government bodies, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

    "Central government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds to cover tax owed for individuals wrongly assessed as self-employed. Government departments and agencies owed, or expected to owe, HMRC £263 million in 2020–21 due to incorrect administration of the rules," the report said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022