Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Court agrees with AG Ferguson: Administration's attempt to deregulate downloadable gun files was illegal

OLYMPIA — A federal judge ruled today that the Trump Administration violated federal law in its efforts to allow 3D-printed gun files to be released on the internet.

In July 2018, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, arguing that Trump Administration efforts to allow the distribution of data files for downloadable, 3D-printed firearms violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution.

In his ruling, Judge Robert Lasnik granted Ferguson’s motion for summary judgment, meaning the case will not need to go to trial. The judge ruled that the Trump Administration’s decision to allow the unlimited distribution on the internet of data files for untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed guns was arbitrary, capricious and unlawful.

“Given the agency's prior position regarding the need to regulate 3D-printed firearms and the CAD files used to manufacture them, it must do more than simply announce a contrary position,” Judge Lasnik wrote. “Overall, the Department of State concluded that the worldwide publication of computerized instructions for the manufacture of undetectable firearms was a threat to world peace and the national security interests of the United States and would cause serious and long-lasting harm to its foreign policy. Against these findings, the federal defendants offer nothing.”

“It is baffling that the Trump Administration continued to work so hard to allow domestic abusers, felons and terrorists access to untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed guns,” Ferguson said. “Even the president himself said in a tweet that this decision didn’t make any sense — one of the rare instances when I agreed with him. I’m thankful the court agrees, too.”

In July 2018, President Trump wrote on Twitter: “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

Other highlights from today’s ruling:

  • “It is undisputed that Congress was not notified prior to the removal of the subject CAD files from the USML. This procedural failure cannot be rectified by providing Congressional notice thirty days in advance of making the “temporary” removal “final:” the temporary modification implemented the removal immediately, without waiting for the proposed rule to become final and without giving Congress notice and an opportunity to exercise its oversight role. Because the removal to which the States object occurred as of July 27, 2018, a subsequent notice is obviously not timely under the statute.”
  • “The Court finds that the agency action is arbitrary and capricious in two, independent respects. First, the agency failed to consider aspects of the problem which Congress deemed important before issuing the temporary modification and letter on July 27, 2018. Second, the agency failed to identify substantial evidence in the administrative record explaining a change of position that necessarily contradicts its prior determinations and findings regarding the threats posed by the subject CAD files and the need to regulate the same under the AECA. Because the agency action was arbitrary and capricious, it is unlawful and must be set aside.”

Case background

In 2015, Defense Distributed, an organization dedicated to global distribution of open-source, downloadable 3D-printed guns, sued the federal government after the U.S. State Department forced the removal of the files from the internet. The federal government successfully argued before federal trial and appellate courts that posting the files online violates firearm export laws and poses a serious threat to national security and public safety. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Then, in an abrupt reversal, the federal government settled the case on June 29, 2018. As part of the settlement, the Trump Administration agreed to allow unlimited public distribution on the internet of the downloadable files for 3D-printed guns.

The court granted Ferguson’s request to block internet distribution of the downloadable files for 3D-printed guns on July 31, 2018, the day before Defense Distributed planned to release them. The court later blocked the gun files’ release for the duration of the lawsuit.

Ferguson has also taken action at the state level, successfully introducing agency-request legislation to ban the manufacture or possession of untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed guns. The new law also prohibits sending a printable gun file to a person who is ineligible to possess firearms.

Ferguson has filed 51 lawsuits against the Trump Administration and has not lost a case. Ferguson has 25 legal victories against the Trump Administration. Fourteen of those cases are finished and cannot be appealed. The Trump Administration has or may appeal the other 11, which include lawsuits involving Dreamers and rules restricting contraception access. No court to rule on the merits of the Attorney General’s arguments in a lawsuit against the Trump Administration has ruled against the office.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov