Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Vermont Joins Lawsuit Against Trump Administration to Stop Internet Files for 3D-Printed Guns

January 24, 2020

CONTACT:    Ben Battles, Solicitor General, 802-828-3171

Attorney General Donovan joined a lawsuit yesterday challenging the Trump Administration’s latest effort to allow 3D-printed gun files to be released on the internet. These files would provide access to blueprints for 3D-printed firearms, also known as “ghost guns,” that are unregistered, untraceable, and difficult to detect. As a result of a previous multistate lawsuit, a federal judge struck down the Trump Administration’s prior attempt to allow the release of the files. However, yesterday, the Administration renewed its efforts by publishing formal rules that would transfer regulation of 3D-printed guns from the State Department to the Department of Commerce, effectively allowing their unlimited distribution.

“3D-printed guns present significant risks to public safety,” said Attorney General Donovan. “We have already fought this battle and won, and we will keep fighting.”

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 Obama Administration successfully argued before 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 U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In defending against Defense Distributed’s lawsuit, the federal government previously stated it was “particularly concerned that [the] proposed export of undetectable firearms technology could be used in an assassination, for the manufacture of spare parts by embargoed nations, terrorist groups, or to compromise aviation security overseas in a manner specifically directed at U.S. persons.”

Then, in an abrupt reversal of past actions, the Trump Administration settled the case in June 2018. As part of the settlement, the federal government agreed to allow unlimited public distribution of downloadable files for 3D-printed guns. A multistate coalition of attorneys general, including Attorney General Donovan, fought this action in federal court and won.

Yesterday, the Administration renewed its efforts by publishing new rules that would transfer regulation of 3D-printed guns from the State Department to the Department of Commerce, effectively allowing their unlimited distribution. Despite acknowledging the dangers posed by the distribution of 3D-printed gun files, the new rules fail to give the Commerce Department authority to regulate 3D-printed guns in any meaningful way.

Vermont was joined in filing yesterday’s lawsuit by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.

Last modified: January 24, 2020