SEATTLE (AP) — A federal judge in Seattle on Tuesday stopped the release of blueprints to make untraceable and undetectable 3D-printed plastic guns as President Donald Trump questioned whether his administration should have agreed to allow the plans to be posted online.
The company behind the plans, Austin, Texas-based Defense Distributed, had reached a settlement with the federal government in June that allows it to make the plans for the guns available for download on Wednesday.
The restraining order from U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik puts that plan on hold for now. "There is a possibility of irreparable harm because of the way these guns can be made," he said.
Eight Democratic attorneys general -- including Washington's Bob Ferguson -- had filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block the settlement. They also sought the restraining order, arguing the 3D guns would be a safety risk.
“Once again, my office had to hold this Administration accountable to the rule of law," Ferguson said in a written statement after the ruling. "I am thankful and relieved Judge Lasnik put a nationwide stop to the Trump Administration’s dangerous decision to allow downloadable, 3D-printed ghost guns to be distributed online. These ghost guns are untraceable, virtually undetectable and, without today’s victory, available to any felon, domestic abuser or terrorist. I hope the President does the right thing and directs his administration to change course.”
Congressional Democrats have urged President Donald Trump to reverse the decision to publish the plans. Trump said Tuesday that he's "looking into" the idea, saying making 3D plastic guns available to the public "doesn't seem to make much sense!"
Trump tweeted that he has already spoken with the National Rifle Association about the downloadable directions a Texas company wants to provide for people to make 3D-printed guns. The guns are made of a hard plastic and are simple to assemble, easy to conceal and difficult to trace.
The election-year headache is a problem of the administration's own making. After a yearslong court battle, the State Department in late June settled the case against Defense Distributed.
The settlement, which took gun-control advocates by surprise, allowed the company to resume posting blueprints for the hard-plastic guns at the end of July. Those plans were put on hold by the Seattle judge's decision.
Hours before the restraining order was issued, Democrats sounded the alarm, warning about "ghost guns" that can avoid detection and pose a deadly hazard.
"All you need is a little money and you can download a blueprint from the internet to make a gun at home," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. "No background check. No criminal history check."
The company's website had said downloads would begin Wednesday, but blueprints for at least one gun — a plastic pistol called the Liberator — have been posted on the site since Friday. A lawyer for the company said he didn't know how many blueprints had been downloaded since then.
Outrage over the administration decision is putting gun control back into the election-year political debate, but with a high-tech twist.
The president seemed to express surprise. He said on Twitter he was looking into the idea of a company providing plans to the public for printing guns, and he said it "doesn't seem to make much sense!"
Democrats agreed and said Trump had the power to stop it.
Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said Trump has boasted that he alone can fix problems afflicting the country.
"Well, fix this deadly mistake that once again your administration has made," Markey said.
Some Republicans also expressed concern.
"Even as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment — this is not right," Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski tweeted, linking to a news story on the guns.
The NRA said in a statement that "anti-gun politicians" and some members of the news media wrongly claim that 3D printing technology "will allow for the production and widespread proliferation of undetectable plastic firearms."
In truth, "undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's political arm. A federal law passed in 1988 — crafted with NRA support — bars the manufacture, sale or possession of an undetectable firearm.
Trump spokesman Hogan Gidley made much the same point, saying the administration supports the law against wholly plastic guns, including those made with a 3D printer.
But Democrats called the law weak and said gun users can get around it by using weapons with a removable metal block that the gun doesn't need in order to function.
Markey, Blumenthal and other Democrats filed legislation that would prohibit the publication of a digital file online that allows a 3D printer to manufacture a firearm. Democrats also filed a separate bill to require that all guns have at least one non-removable component made of metal.
The second measure is intended to ensure that even guns primarily made of plastic can be discovered by metal detectors.
People can use the blueprints to manufacture plastic guns using a 3D printer. But industry experts have expressed doubts that criminals would go to the trouble, since the printers needed to make the guns can cost thousands of dollars, the guns themselves tend to disintegrate quickly and traditional firearms are easy to come by.
Unlike traditional firearms that can fire thousands of rounds in a lifetime, the 3D-printed guns normally last only a few rounds before they fall apart, experts say. They usually hold a bullet or two and then must be manually loaded. And they're not usually very accurate.