White House, Democrats back judge blocking release of gun schematics

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks to WSET from Capitol Hill on Aug. 1, 2018. (WSET)

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated President Donald Trump’s concern about the planned online publication of blueprints for firearms that can be built with 3-D printers Wednesday after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking their release.

“The Department of Justice made a deal without the president’s approval on those regards,” Sanders said at a press briefing. “The president’s glad this effort was delayed to give more time to review the issue.”

In 2013, Defense Distributed released schematics for printable guns online, and more than 100,000 people downloaded them before the State Department demanded it take them down. Cody Wilson, founder of the company, sued the federal government in 2015. Last month, the Justice Department settled the case, paving the way for Wilson to distribute the plans at midnight on Aug. 1.

Attorneys general from several states and the District of Columbia filed emergency motions to halt the release of the documents, and a federal judge in Washington granted a preliminary injunction late Tuesday.

Trump weighed in on the issue publicly for the first time Tuesday, saying the sale of 3-D plastic guns “doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

Defense Distributed is not selling guns, but the blueprints it intends to provide would enable anyone with the necessary materials and a 3-D printer to construct their own weapons. Critics say this would make it easy for people who cannot pass a background check to bypass the safeguards preventing them from buying a gun, but Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said Americans can already legally build guns in their own homes if they have the right equipment.

With Trump now seemingly aligned against his own Justice Department, he is also in the increasingly unusual position of siding with Senate Democrats. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., applauded the court ruling that prevented the distribution of the blueprints.

“In the Obama administration and the first 16 to 17 months of the Trump administration, there’s been an ability for the United States to block release of these 3-D plans,” Kaine said. “Why the Trump administration decided they wanted to drop their objection, I have no idea. We have been asking State Department officials to explain it and they have not given us a good answer.”

The State Department’s original objection to Wilson’s plan was that it could violate trade regulations if someone outside the U.S. used the blueprints to build a weapon. Wilson’s lawsuit ultimately challenged that position on First Amendment grounds. According to Gottlieb, the settlement was the result of months of negotiation, and it was a sign the government believed it could lose the case.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Va., said Wednesday the release of the schematics could pose a threat to people around the world.

“We should be plugging loopholes in the system, not opening up a huge loophole,” he said.

Democrats warned that plastic guns would be undetectable by security systems at airports and other public venues, potentially enabling terrorists to slip into crowded places with deadly weapons. However, in order to comply with existing laws, Wilson’s designs do include metal components.

Gottlieb suggested opposition to the release of the blueprints is grounded in concern that citizens will be able to continue building firearms even if the government forces gun stores out of business.

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

Lawmakers insist their interest is protecting the public from dangerous people armed with untraceable guns, and they expressed frustration that the Senate did not take up an emergency vote on the issue Tuesday.

“I’d hope all 100 senators would want to increase, not decrease, the safety of the American people,” Van Hollen said.

As the technology becomes less expensive and more accessible, the prospect of criminals building guns with 3-D printers could pose a broader and more complicated challenge for legislators than just this one case.

“We’ll have to worry about it a lot, but let’s first try to stop the mass distribution of these plans that could be so harmful to people and also to our law enforcement,” Kaine said. “Law enforcement wants very much to maintain the prohibition on these plans getting out there.”

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