As state officials and congressional lawmakers scramble to block the distribution of downloadable blueprints for 3D-printed plastic guns, the Texas-based company at the center of the controversy has released those files to the public, amassing tens of thousands of downloads over the past few days.
On Tuesday, a website for digital firearms nonprofit Defense Distributed already appeared to be hosting schematics for seven different firearms, including an AR-15, an AR-10 and a VZ-58, a semi-automatic military-style rifle that resembles an AK-47.
Defense Distributed previously said it would begin sharing those documents on Aug. 1, following the U.S. State Department’s decision last month to settle a lawsuit by the company’s founder challenging the federal government’s previous order barring the dissemination of the firearm blueprints.
Attorneys general from eight states and Washington, D.C., challenged that settlement in a lawsuit Monday, seemingly hoping to keep it from going into effect. Democrats in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation to ban 3D-printed guns. President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that he was “looking into” the matter, saying it “doesn’t seem to make much sense.” It’s unclear what further action he had planned.
But the time for action may have already passed. Under the terms of the government’s settlement with Defense Distributed, the State Department gave the company the go-ahead to begin publishing the files on Friday. The blueprints went live shortly after.
With more than 4,500 downloads as of Tuesday afternoon, the most popular blueprint on the site appeared to be for “the Liberator,” a single-shot .380-caliber handgun made almost entirely of 3D-printed plastic. Models for the AR-15, the second-most popular firearm, had been downloaded more than 3,000 times. Those numbers appeared to be rising, though the Defense Distributed website and a page hosting the downloads were crashing frequently. Attempts by HuffPost to obtain the files were unsuccessful.
The publishing of the 3D-printed gun blueprints marks a significant victory for Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson, a self-described anarchist who has said publicly that he’s seeking to undermine gun control efforts by democratizing access to firearms. Wilson first posted plans for the Liberator in April 2013. Within a few weeks, the State Department demanded Wilson take down the files, alleging he had violated international arms export regulations by enabling the manufacture of guns by people in countries the U.S. does not sell arms to.
By the time Wilson complied with the State Department’s request, the Liberator files had already been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, Wilson said.
In 2015, Wilson and his company filed a lawsuit against the State Department, contending the government violated his right to free speech and right to bear arms by prohibiting the blueprint’s publication. Federal courts initially appeared to view his claims unfavorably, and following the Supreme Court’s rejection of his case earlier this year, it seemed that the State Department was prepared to continue litigating.
But in June, the government reversed course, opting to settle with Wilson in an agreement stipulating that his blueprints would be exempt from previous restrictions under a recent proposal to loosen foreign arms trafficking regulations. The State Department also agreed to reimburse Defense Distributed for nearly $40,000 in legal fees, while maintaining that it had not denied Wilson’s constitutional rights.
Critics have since blasted the government’s decision, claiming it threatens to unleash a flood of unregulated, untraceable firearms that would undermine state and federal gun laws and threaten security both in the U.S. and abroad.
On Friday, a federal judge rejected an effort by gun safety groups to temporarily block the settlement with Defense Distributed. Shortly thereafter, the State Department posted a notice formally excluding the company’s files from previous regulations. A State Department official also sent Defense Distributed a letter approving the blueprints and other documents for “public release (i.e., unlimited distribution).”
Josh Blackman, an attorney representing Defense Distributed, told HuffPost the letter served as “a license” not just for his client, but for “any U.S. person” to share the files. He also pushed back against the recent state-led effort against 3D-printed gun blueprints.
“The State Attorneys general cannot censor the speech and commerce of citizens of another state, especially when that commerce is licensed by the federal government,” said Blackman.
In a statement to HuffPost, the State Department said it had simply “completed the actions that were required under the settlement agreement in the Defense Distributed litigation.”
“The decision to settle the case was made in the interest of the security and foreign policy of the United States, and in consultation with the Department of Justice,” the statement read. “The Department’s role in this issue relates solely to regulation of exports of firearms and related technical data, and has no role in domestic firearms policies.”