Editorial: Some breathing room in 3D plastic gun fight

This is what a 3D-printed gun called the Liberator looks like.

This is what a 3D-printed gun called the Liberator looks like.

The issue: For five years, the Justice Department has fought to block a Texas-based company called Defense Distributed from posting on the internet blueprints for 3D printable guns. The legal argument was that the plans would violate federal export controls. But anyone with a modicum of concern for public safety could see the grave risk with opening the way for anyone — terrorists and other criminals — to make a firearm that could not be traced.

Defense Distributed, a nonprofit, joined with the Second Amendment Foundation to sue the Justice Department, claiming the block violated several Constitutional rights.

Then abruptly, for reasons not explained, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions changed course in June and settled the suit. Blueprints for making 3D plastic guns could be posted on the internet as of Aug. 1.

What we said: “How could it be considered a good idea to let anyone make a do-it-yourself gun that would be untraceable and circumvent state and federal laws?

“This is not something reasonable gun rights supporters are scrambling for. Unbelievably, it is our own government that is pushing to give this gift to terrorists and other criminals. ...

“Not only did the government acquiesce to allow the public posting of blueprints to make a 3D firearm, but also it agreed to pay nearly $40,000 in legal fees to Defense Distributed and the foundation.

“It is particularly galling that taxpayers’ money is paying those fees while the government is opening the door to a free-for-all manufacture of untraceable plastic guns. ...

“Illegal guns on the street are dangerous enough to public safety without adding new unregistered, undetectable, untraceable firearms to the potent mix. Stop the insanity.”

— July 29, 2018

Other reactions: Alarm over the Justice Department’s unexplained reversal was swift and broad. Five U.S. senators, including Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, wrote to the department and demanded to see a copy of the settlement, which is public information, and receive a briefing. A letter signed by 53 groups, such as Sandy Hook Promise and Newtown Action Alliance, implored President Donald Trump to stop what is a special exemption for Defense Distributed.

Gun rights groups countered that proliferation of untraceable guns would be limited by the expense of the equipment and software.

What happened: The day before the blueprints for make-your-own guns were to go online, a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order, in response to requests by eight state attorneys general, including Connecticut’s. Also on July 31 Democratic senators proposed legislation to ban all undetectable and untraceable guns.

What should happen next: The judge’s temporary restraining order allows some breathing room for a much-needed discussion on how to regulate the emerging technology that allows anyone with the means to make deadly weapons. Other public safety measures must simultaneously be pursued, such as closing gun show loopholes and enforcing universal background checks. The focus must be on public safety, not sidestepping existing laws and regulations.