If tomorrow, someone announced they were going to distribute concealable firearms that were untraceable and immune to airport metal detectors, you would expect the federal government to block that plan with every tool at its disposal, wouldn’t you? Any president or member of Congress who objected to such lethal devices might, at worst, risk losing the votes of assassins, organized crime figures and terrorists, but what American has forgotten 9/11 so quickly or completely that they are delighted with the prospect of so-called “ghost” guns flooding the market?
Yet that’s exactly what’s happening right here and right now with 3-D printable plastic guns, the plans for which were scheduled to hit the internet as a free download today, until a federal judge blocked them temporarily. It is so crazy, such a clear assault on national security, and so devoid of justification that even President Donald Trump observed its foolishness in a Tuesday morning tweet: “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to the NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
Before speaking to the National Rifle Association, however, President Trump might have consulted with his own State Department, which in June entered into a settlement with the Texas nonprofit Defense Distributed to allow the company to publish gun blueprints online. Why the State Department? Because publishing the plans was seen as a breach of international agreements limiting the export of weapons and related technical materials and services. Defense Distributed started posting information about the printable guns five years ago, and the Obama administration ordered it stopped. A lawsuit was then brought by the nonprofit.
Enter the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and nine states, including Maryland’s Brian Frosh, who filed suit Monday in federal court in Seattle leading to the temporary restraining order. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson had a succinct, and damning, explanation for what motivated the action: “If the Trump administration won’t keep us safe, we will.” That’s not exactly an uncommon view within the ranks of law enforcement. A letter sent Monday to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed by 21 state attorneys general said the State Department’s decision is “deeply dangerous and could have an unprecedented impact on public safety.”
And, please, don’t anyone dare explain this as “freedom and innovation” as NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch has. Currently, 3-D printers cost thousands of dollars. These guns are not for people to defend themselves. They are not for hunting. They are not even for target shooting. At best, they are a novelty for people who think it’s really cool to build their own firearm from scratch. But at worst, they set an especially dangerous precedent in allowing people of means to produce a gun without a serial number on a whim — a firearm capable of sneaking past metal detectors.
We can’t explain this irrational five-year campaign by Defense Distributed and its founder to get printable gun blueprints posted on the internet. Cody Wilson and his ilk will have to live with the consequences should they prevail. But what’s far worse is the Trump administration’s capitulation to it. The government’s own experts have pointed out in the past (when Barack Obama was in the White House) that downloadable schematics are an open invitation to terrorist groups around the world who would have little trouble gaining access to a 3-D printer. Even if State Department lawyers thought the the plaintiff might prevail, why would they offer a settlement that allowed the gun downloads to proceed? Why not leave that decision to the judicial branch? This was not the Pentagon Papers and a defense of the First Amendment; this has been about blowing a hole in domestic gun regulations — the equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater and maybe firing off some shots at the patrons as well.
As the attorneys general lawsuit points out, the Trump administration did not seek input from Congress or Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis before authorizing the June settlement, an apparent violation of the law. It isn’t just a temporary restraining order that’s needed, President Trump must intervene and retract the settlement as unjustified and counter to U.S. national security interests. It’s madness to willingly arm some nutcase with a computer and a printer who could easily show up at the next political rally with a plastic gun in his pocket and evil intent. That’s a terrible thing to contemplate but hardly outside the realm of possibilities.