TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced he is joining a coalition of states in suing to stop the Trump Administration from trying, once again, to enact rules to weaken federal oversight of certain firearm-designing software files, which would make it easier for anyone with access to such files and a 3D printer to create a gun.
The multistate coalition, which expects to file its suit later this week, is opposing new rules that would remove from the U.S. Munitions List software and technology that enables the design and production of certain firearms. That proposed removal is accompanied by a transfer of authority over such printable gun files from the U.S. State Department to the Department of Commerce, where the coalition explains there will be no “meaningful regulation” of the printable firearm files.
These files pose a serious risk to public safety. With digital firearm files, anyone with a computer and access to a 3D printer – including minors, convicted felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill – can make a working gun. To make matters worse, the guns are printed without serial numbers, meaning that law enforcement cannot trace these weapons when they are used in a crime, and the printed guns are potentially also undetectable by standard metal detectors, posing a risk to sensitive locations.
“The federal government should be doing everything in its power to prevent dangerous individuals, including felons and terrorists, from getting their hands on files that allow them to print guns,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Instead, they keep trying to make it easier to disseminate these deadly weapons. But if the federal government won’t do its job, states will. That’s why we have successfully prevented the federal government from changing its rules in the past, and why we will prevail once more. And that’s why New Jersey has led the fight to stop Defense Distributed and any other company from sharing these unprecedented files, a fight that is still ongoing.”
Earlier this year, the State Department sought to loosen the regulations covering on 3D-printable gun files by removing them from the U.S. Munitions List, but a federal court blocked the move after a legal challenge by the states, including New Jersey.
Among other things, the court ruled that federal officials had violated the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) by failing to consider how removing printable gun files -- which were subject to federal export controls as long they remained on the U.S. Munitions List – “would impact world peace, national security and foreign policy.” The court also held that the State Department failed to provide Congress with adequate notice of its plan to remove 3D-printable gun files from the Munitions List.
In its latest action, the federal government has issued two Final Rules that together would (1) remove from the U.S. Munitions List digital firearms files for non-automatic weapons up to .50 caliber and (2) transfer regulatory authority for such 3D-printable gun files from the Department of State to the Department of Commerce.
Once removed from the U.S. Munitions List and State Department oversight, the coalition asserts, digital firearm files will no longer be subject to federal export controls under the AECA and “firearm files will instantly become easily accessible both within the United States … and outside the United States.”
Under the new rules, the Department of Commerce ostensibly retains jurisdiction over firearm files available on the Internet in electronic formats that are ready for insertion into a computer. Today’s lawsuit, however, contends that such regulatory authority is mostly window dressing. If the firearm files are disseminated by any means other than publication over the Internet – for example, e-mail, direct file transfer or hard drive transmission – Commerce will not exercise regulatory authority over them.
The coalition argues that the new federal rules “effectively deregulate 3D-printable gun files entirely” and, if allowed to stand, will make printable guns “widely available” around the world through online posting, file sharing, etc.
The impending multi-state lawsuit is the latest in a series of actions by Attorney General Grewal to protect New Jerseyans from the threat of gun violence.
In June 2018, Attorney General Grewal sent cease-and-desist letters to “ghost gun” companies across the United States, ordering them to stop advertising and selling partially-built firearms, including assault weapons, in New Jersey. Then in November 2018, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law new restrictions on ghost guns.
In light of the new law, Attorney General Grewal sent additional cease-and-desist letters in December 2018, promising to sue any ghost gun companies that failed to comply. As a result, over a dozen companies agreed to block all New Jersey sales.
When one company, U.S. Patriot Armory, failed to comply, Attorney General Grewal filed suit, marking the first such lawsuit against a ghost gun distributor in the nation.
That same month, Attorney General Grewal also announced this year the indictment of nine men who had allegedly participated in a Camden-County-based criminal network that trafficked “ghost guns” in the form of untraceable assault rifles.
Attorney General Grewal also took steps to tackle the risk posed by large capacity magazines. In June of this year, Attorney General Grewal filed suit against a Nevada company – New Frontier Armory – after it ignored a cease-and-desist letter and allegedly sold six LCMs to an undercover state investigator, including a 100-round magazine, a 30-round magazine and a 15-round magazine.
The State also remains in appellate court in two states (Texas and New Jersey) with Defense Distributed, the Texas-based company that has sought to make its 3D-printable ghost gun and other firearm files widely available to the public, and has challenged New Jersey’s statutory restrictions on dissemination of such weapons.