Press Release

Attorney General Ellison sues Trump Administration over effort to allow release of 3D-printed guns

Federal judge found previous attempt to allow 3D-printed guns unlawful; states claim current attempt is unlawful for same reasons as previous attempt

January 24, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison late yesterday joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general, led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in filing a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s latest effort to allow 3D-printed gun files to be released on the internet. These files would allow plug-and-play access to 3D-print unregistered, untraceable firearms, sometimes called “ghost guns,” that can be very difficult to detect, even with a metal detector.

In previous multistate lawsuit that Minnesota joined, a federal court in November 2019 struck down the Trump Administration’s earlier attempt to allow the release of the files. Despite losing in court, the Trump Administration yesterday finalized new rules that would transfer regulation of 3D-printed guns from the State Department to the Department of Commerce. Due to loopholes in Commerce regulations, which are already weaker than State Department restrictions, the Commerce Department will lack the power to regulate 3D-printed guns in any meaningful way. This will effectively allow for their unlimited distribution.

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Attorney General Ellison and the coalition argue those rules are unlawful for many of the same reasons as the previous attempt. 

“My job is to help Minnesotans live with safety, dignity, and respect. It’s hard even to conceive that the Trump Administration is willing to let Minnesotans die just so a few companies can get rich off of flooding our streets with undetectable and untraceable weapons. But that’s exactly what the Administration is doing. I won’t allow it,” Attorney General Ellison said.

Background and previous successful lawsuit

In 2015, Defense Distributed, an organization dedicated to global distribution of open-source, downloadable 3D-printed guns, sued the Obama Administration after the U.S. State Department forced Defense Distributed to remove the files from the internet. The federal government successfully argued in federal trial and appellate courts that posting the files online violates firearm export laws and poses a serious threat to national security and public safety. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

On June 29, 2018, in an abrupt reversal, the Trump Administration settled the case. As part of the settlement, the Trump Administration agreed to allow unlimited public distribution on the internet of the downloadable files for 3D-printed guns. This would have given anyone with a 3D printer access to those weapons.

On July 30, 2018, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office joined Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit to stop block the Trump Administration’s action. On November 12, 2019, the court granted the states’ motion for summary judgment, ruling that the Trump Administration’s decision to allow distribution of the files was arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful.

New rules and current lawsuit

In the new rules, the Administration acknowledges the dangers that the distribution of 3D-printed gun files poses. It agrees that regulation is needed, even though its new regulations are toothless and will not prevent the global dissemination of-3D printed guns. It also acknowledges that regulating the distribution of 3D-printed gun files does not violate the First or Second Amendments.

In the lawsuit filed today, Attorney General Ellison and the coalition assert that the new rules are unlawful for similar reasons as the previous rule. They argue that the Administration has still offered no evidence to support their about-face on the risks of allowing unregulated access to firearms worldwide, making the rule arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). They argue that the Administration also violated the APA by failing to provide meaningful public notice of the rule change.

Joining Attorney General Ellison and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson in the lawsuit are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the lawsuit is available on the website of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.