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Last-minute concern from Trump unlikely to impact release of 3-D gun schematics

Users will be able to download blueprints for 3-D-printed guns like this one on Aug. 1, 2018. (Marisa Vasquez/MGN)

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he is “looking into” 3-D printable guns being made available to the public, hours before an organization was set to upload blueprints and instructions that could enable anyone with a 3-D printer to construct their own firearms.

“Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!” Trump tweeted.

Cody Wilson, whose company Defense Distributed planned to post the materials at midnight Wednesday, remained confident even as numerous states file last-minute lawsuits attempting to stop him.

“I am now being sued by at least 21 state attorneys general. If you want your Second Amendment online, THIS is the fight,” Wilson tweeted Monday.

However, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order late Tuesday blocking the publication of the blueprints.

Trump’s tweet was puzzling for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was a legal settlement negotiated by his administration last month that allowed Defense Distributed to proceed, but it signaled how rapidly vocal opposition to the idea has spread.

“No, Mr. President, it doesn’t make any sense,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., at a news conference Tuesday, “and it doesn’t make any sense your Justice Department and your State Department agreed to make 3D guns available to the public. Mr. President, you once said you alone can fix things. Well, fix this deadly mistake that, once again, your administration has made.”

Democrats also blasted Trump for seemingly consulting with the NRA before taking a stance.

“Your administration approved this,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted in response to the president. “What kind of incompetence and dangerous governing is this? And to check with the NRA? Holy moly.”

Defense Distributed will not actually be selling 3D-printed guns. It will be offering blueprints for users to make several models of firearms themselves if they have a 3D printer and the necessary materials.

The blueprints were posted briefly in 2013 before the State Department demanded Wilson shut the site down, alleging that the ability for someone outside the U.S. to download them and print a weapon may violate Intentional Traffic in Arms Regulations. More than 100,000 people downloaded the plans before they were removed, and they have likely continued circulating on the dark web since then.

In 2015, Wilson sued the federal government, arguing the request to remove the blueprints violated his First Amendment rights. After three years of litigation, the government agreed last month to settle the case, approved the blueprints for release, and promised to pay $40,000 of Wilson’s legal bills.

Gun rights groups welcomed that decision, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was unable to provide much detail on to lawmakers at a Senate hearing last week.

“Anti-gun advocates are taking to the courts to try and stop Defense Distributed. They claim that 3D-printed guns will become a boon for criminals… Our rights do not depend on what criminals do. For example, we do not shut down printing presses because someone might use it to libel,” Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said in a statement Monday.

Gun control activists and attorneys general from several Democratic states have attempted to block the publication of the blueprints, and they achieved at least a temporary victory on Tuesday evening.

“On Friday, July 27th, using Orwellian, ‘Lies are Truth’ logic, the Trump Administration announced that enabling international terrorists to download plans for, and then make, AR-15s and other guns ‘is in the interest of the security and foreign policy of the United States,’” said Jon Lowy, vice president of litigation for the Brady Campaign, in a statement. “That’s nonsense...and even more dangerous policy.”

Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, which helped Wilson with his lawsuit, was unsurprised by President Trump’s tweet. He noted Trump supported gun control restrictions immediately after the Parkland, Fla. high school shooting and eventually backed off after hearing more from gun rights advocates.

“I think the president hasn’t been fully briefed,” Gottlieb said. “He’s seen a lot of hysteria in the media.”

Democrats observed a similar pattern in the president’s response to firearm controversies.

“On issue after issue, the Trump administration’s M.O. when there’s a crisis is to say, ‘We’ll look into it, working with the NRA,’ and then nothing happens,” Schumer said.

At the press conference Tuesday, Democrats made dire predictions of terrorists and mass shooters printing out assault weapons and attacking movie theaters, schools, and public spaces.

“We now live in a world where a 3-D printer cartridge has become as deadly as a gun cartridge,” Markey said, calling it “the ultimate gun loophole.”

Defenders of the printable firearms insist critics are overstating the risks and misstating the facts.

“A lot of people attacking us are attacking based on hatred of guns,” Gottlieb said.

Americans are already legally allowed to build untraceable firearms in their homes with machine tools, subject to some restrictions. Those restrictions will also apply to 3D-printed guns, which will be required to have some metal in them to comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act, and Wilson is only uploading plans for commonly-used firearms that civilians can legally own.

“If you’re allowed to own a gun in your own home, you should be allowed to make a gun in your own home,” Gottlieb said.

Detractors have raised concerns about terrorists and felons who cannot obtain licenses to buy guns making their own instead, both in the U.S. and abroad.

“It is, simply, crazy to give criminals the tools to build untraceable, undetectable 3-D printed guns at the touch of a button. Yet that's exactly what the Trump administration is allowing,” said New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood in a statement. “We won't stand by as New Yorkers’ safety is jeopardized by this abrupt about-face by the federal government.”

It is unknown how many guns have been made from Wilson’s blueprints since they first emerged, but Gottlieb suggested it has been enough to provide a test case for the violence and chaos opponents fear would ensue.

“When Cody Wilson first put the plans up, over 100,000 people downloaded the plans to do it. Not one of those guns was used in a crime,” he said. “Zero.”

Gottlieb also disputed the claim that dropping the lawsuit was a political decision by the staunchly pro-gun Trump administration. With a trial date approaching, the judge had encouraged the parties to work out a compromise, and he believes DOJ attorneys made a deal because they recognized they could lose in court.

Democrats still hold Trump responsible. At the press conference Tuesday, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., evoked the assassin played by John Malkovich in the film “In the Line of Fire,” who carried a plastic gun that he could slip through security checkpoints unnoticed.

“It just defies common sense and yet this is what the Trump administration has done,” Nelson said. “They have allowed, by decision of two departments of the Trump administration, they’ve allowed tomorrow the publication of the blueprints to produce guns like this.”

While it will become much easier to find Wilson’s blueprints online if Defense Distributed is allowed to post them, Gottlieb stressed the legality of building a gun at home will be no different than it was before, and anyone intending to sell a printed gun will still be subject to the same licensing requirements as other firearms dealers.

“We didn’t change any of that,” he said. “We’re just saying we give you another way to do it to keep up with technology.”

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