U.S. allows 3D printable gun designs to be online after legal battle

A Liberator pistol appears on July 11, 2013, next to the 3D printer on which its components were made. Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice has ruled that blueprints explaining how three-dimensional guns can be printed can go back online.

The ruling follows a four-year court battle between the U.S. State Department and the company behind the idea, Defense Distributed.

The government originally ordered the files to be taken off the internet in 2013, saying they violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulation. The regulations oversee the export of military weapons and materials.

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Specifically, the government took issue with the company’s ‘Liberator’ pistol blueprint, which had been downloaded more than 100,000 times. Anyone with access to a 3D printer could download the files and create the weapons.

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But the company, along with gun lobbyist group Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), argued back that making the files available online is part of their free-speech rights.

In a press release this month, the SAF lauded its win.

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“Not only is this a First Amendment victory for free speech, it also is a devastating blow to the gun prohibition lobby,” the organization’s founder, Alan M. Gottlieb, said in the release.

“For years, anti-gunners have contended that modern semi-automatic sport-utility rifles are so-called ‘weapons of war,’ and with this settlement, the government has acknowledged they are nothing of the sort.”

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The SAF explained that the government will now draft amendments to the arms regulations. The Department of Commerce will take over regulations of commercially available firearms. The government will also pay US$10,000 to the company, as well as thousands in legal fees.

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The blueprints, named Ghost Gunner files and computer-aided design (CAD) files, will now be back online by August 1, according to the company.

AR-15 rifles, which have been used in several U.S. mass shootings recently, will also be featured on the site.

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Defense Distributed has boasted about the move, saying: “The age of the downloadable gun formally begins.”

That’s a scary thought for gun-control advocates, who are sounding alarms on the “ghost guns,” which will be unregistered and not come with a serial number.

J. Adam Skaggs, who works with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, recently told The New York Times that the government’s decision to settle has a lot to do with the country’s change in administration.

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“This isn’t a case where the underlying facts of the law changed,” he said. “The only thing that changed was the administration.”

The printed guns, which are made of plastic, would not be detectable by standard airport security measures. That means they can easily go undetected and be transported.

It also means convicted criminals can get their hands on a gun without taking an illegal avenue.

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