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How some states are fighting to stop ‘undetectable’ 3D-printed guns

In 2013, a gun rights enthusiast posted designs online for a 3D-printed, functional handgun. In June, the State Department reversed a past decision and allowed it to be posted online by Texas-based group. Attorneys general from eight states and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit in a last-ditch effort. John Yang gets reaction from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

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  • John Yang:

    There's a new front in the fight over gun control, people making guns at home with 3-D printers.

    A Texas-based group called Defense Distributed is starting to post on the web plans for 3-D printed guns. Critics say it open up a Pandora's box of what they call ghost guns. They don't have serial numbers, they don't require a background check, and they can slip through metal detectors.

    Since 3-D printing was invented more than three decades ago, it's been used to model and create jewelry, figurines, even parts of the human body. In 2013, a gun rights enthusiast and self-described anarchist named Cody Wilson posted online the designs for a 3-D-printed functional plastic handgun. This is an ATF video showing a 3-D-printed gun malfunctioning.

    It's made entirely of plastic, except for a metal firing pin, and could easily pass through metal detectors. The State Department moved to stop Wilson, saying he was violating international agreements on arms trafficking.

    In 2015, Wilson sued, saying his First Amendment rights were violated. Last month, the State Department reversed itself, and said Defense Distributed could post the designs, starting tomorrow. But the group put them up last week.

    Since then, the information has been downloaded over 1,000 times. On the group's Web site, downloads are now available for a plastic handgun called the Liberator, as well as part of an AR-15, and a Beretta M-9 handgun.

    Attorneys general from eight states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on Monday in a last-ditch effort to stop further release of the designs. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro went to court to temporarily block the group's Web site within his state.

    Josh Blackman is Defense Distributed's attorney.

  • Josh Blackman:

    The attorney general of one state doesn't have the power to censor the speech and commerce of a citizen in another state, especially when that commerce is licensed by the federal government. The U.S. Constitution trumps their state laws, and federal law also trumps their state laws.

  • John Yang:

    President Trump jumped into the fray and seemed to be at odds with his own administration. "I am looking into 3-D plastic guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA. Doesn't seem to make much sense."

    We asked Josh Blackman, the attorney for Defense Distributed you just heard from, to join us for a longer segment, but he wasn't able to because of court proceedings.

    And the Second Amendment Foundation, which has supported posting 3-D-printed gun information online, declined our invitation.

    A short time ago, a federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked the release of the gun blueprints.

    Before that hearing, I spoke with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is one of the officials seeking that temporary order.

    I asked about his concerns with what Defense Distributed is trying to do.

  • Josh Shapiro:

    These undetectable guns can get in the hands of criminals. They can get in the hands of terrorists. They can get in the hands of children and others who aren't legally permitted to buy a gun in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or in states all across our country.

    We have gun laws on the books. It's my job, as the chief law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to enforce those laws on the books. And so if a criminal can't go to a store and buy a gun, he sure as heck shouldn't be able to go home and print one.

    That's why we have gone to court to try and stop these 3-D printed guns from able to being able to come online in Pennsylvania or across the country.

  • John Yang:

    And, in your case, in the case of Pennsylvania, you have a temporary block. They're not — they're blocking any I.P. address from Pennsylvania from — from reaching this Web site.

    What's the next step in this case, in your case, in Pennsylvania? Well,

  • Josh Shapiro:

    Well, that's right.

    We went to a federal judge on an emergency basis on Sunday, just a couple of days ago, and sought this — this blocking of the code to make its way to Pennsylvania. And we do have that block in place.

    Now, look, I will be the first to admit, that's not ideal. The Internet doesn't stop at state boundaries. But it is a first step. We're also fighting it out in court out in Seattle. And, overall, our efforts here in Pennsylvania, in Seattle, and across this country is to put an injunction in place to block this code from making its way out on the Internet, and allowing criminals and others who shouldn't be able to possess the guns to be able to download one.

  • John Yang:

    Cody Wilson, the man behind this, says he's nearly exercising his free speech rights under the First Amendment. What do you say to that?

  • Josh Shapiro:

    I would say that's a laughable argument.

    We have laws in place in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that say, if you want to buy a gun, you have got to go through a background check, you have got to be of a certain age, just two examples of what our laws are.

    Why should someone who would fail our standards here in Pennsylvania, who wouldn't qualify to be able to buy a gun, be able to simply download one and print it out with this same printer that exists in the Philadelphia school district that the school district bought for $140? That simply is nonsensical.

    It doesn't make sense. And it is a public safety risk if we allow this to go forward.

  • John Yang:

    Some time ago, Congress passed the Undetected Firearms Act, making it illegal to own a gun made entirely of plastic.

    Why wouldn't this fall under that law?

  • Josh Shapiro:

    Well, you would have to ask the members of Congress.

    I know they're scurrying about, introducing bills, this and that. I, frankly, can't pay much mind to what they're doing. I hope, ultimately, they are able to get laws in place to stop this.

    But I can't wait on Congress. That's why I went into court on an emergency basis to try to stop this from ever making its way out into the community and to be able to allow people to kind of mass-produce these dangerous weapons, and do so, not in accordance with state laws, and put people's lives at risk.

  • John Yang:

    This threat or this possibility of printing a gun with a 3-D printer has been around since 2013. Should something have been done in the legislature, in the Pennsylvania state legislature, before this to — if you wanted to stop it?

  • Josh Shapiro:

    Yes, something should have been done in the state legislature here in Pennsylvania, in other state legislatures, and certainly in Congress to stop it.

    But I can't wait on lawmakers to act. That's why we went into court to act now to protect people's public safety. I mean, if you think about this, right, we have laws on the books to prevent criminals, prevent terrorists from being able to get guns. We have got procedures in place to be able to prevent people from walking on an airplane with guns.

    Well, if this code is allowed to be put online, and people are able to download it with ease in a real mainstream way, which is what this person in Texas is trying to do, it'll make a mockery of all of our laws. It will literally put lives at risk. It will empower criminals and terrorists and others who shouldn't have guns.

    That is absolutely unacceptable. And, as the attorney general of Pennsylvania, I'm standing up to fight that.

  • John Yang:

    The agreement, the settlement with the State Department, said that he was going to post these on August 1, tomorrow. He did it last week, on Friday. Is there or should there be some sort of legal sanction or punishment for that?

  • Josh Shapiro:

    There should be. That's why we went into court in Pennsylvania. And at least in the immediate term, the sanction here in Pennsylvania is that he can't really deliver that code to a computer with a Pennsylvania I.P. address.

    He can't post new stuff online to people here in Pennsylvania. Certainly, we want that broadened out across the board, across the country.

    And I have to say, just in terms of the State Department, the U.S. State Department, allowing this to go forward is really remarkable and shocking. What's even more shocking is that, earlier today, President Trump tweeted that he was looking into this, as though he was some innocent bystander in all this.

    It was his administration that allowed this to go forward in the first place. And his response, that I called the NRA to talk to them about it? That's insane.

    What the president should be doing is calling law enforcement leaders, people across — in his federal government and across the country who are on the front lines every day, like I am, dealing with gun violence in our communities, trying to enforce the laws of our states. Those are the people he should be reaching out to, not the NRA.

  • John Yang:

    Josh Shapiro, attorney general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, thank you very much.

  • Josh Shapiro:

    Thank you.

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