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U.S. judge halts 3-D printed gun blueprints hours before planned release

By Tina Bellon

By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday blocked the planned release of blueprints for 3-D printed guns hours before they were set to hit the internet, siding with several states that sued to halt publication of designs to make weapons that security screening may not detect.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle said the blueprints' publication could cause irreparable harm to U.S. citizens. The decision blocked a settlement President Donald Trump's administration had reached with a Texas-based company, which initially said it planned to put files online on Wednesday.

But Josh Blackman, a lawyer for the company Defense Distributed, said during Tuesday's hearing that blueprints had already been uploaded to the firm's website on Friday.

The publication of those files is now illegal under federal law, Lasnik said.

"There are 3-D printers in public colleges and public spaces and there is the likelihood of potential irreparable harm," Lasnik said at the end of a one-hour hearing on the lawsuit.

Defense Distributed and its founder Cody Wilson, a self-declared anarchist, argued that access to the online blueprints is guaranteed under the First and Second Amendment rights, respectively to free speech and to bear arms.

Lasnik said First Amendment issues had to be looked at closely and set another hearing in the case for Aug. 10.

Blackman told Reuters he was disappointed in the court's ruling and the judge's implication that Wilson as an anarchist would break the law.

"Mr. Wilson scrupulously obeys all court orders," Blackman said, adding that he was awaiting the judge's written order before deciding on further legal action.

Lasnik at the end of the hearing had said breaking the law was something "anarchists do all the time."

Gun control proponents are concerned the weapons made from 3-D printers are untraceable, undetectable "ghost" firearms that pose a threat to global security. Some gun rights groups say the technology is expensive, the guns are unreliable and the threat is being overblown.

Eight states and the District of Columbia on Monday filed a lawsuit against the federal government, arguing it acted arbitrarily in reaching the June settlement.

The states said online blueprints would allow criminals easy access to weapons. They said the Trump administration had failed to explain why it settled the case and that its decision violated their ability to regulate firearms and keep citizens safe.

Eric Soskin, a lawyer for the U.S. State Department, told the judge on Tuesday that the government's role in the case was that of a bystander.

Soskin said the State Department did not get involved in domestic gun regulation. He added that the State Department and other branches of the U.S. executive in May had decided to take the types of guns featured on Defense Distributed's website off a list of weapons banned for export.

"As part of this decision, the United States has determined that the kind of guns you can go and buy in any store are not a threat to national security," Soskin said of the settlement.

Defense Distributed's files include 3-D printable blueprints for a plastic AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, a version of a weapon that has been used in many U.S. mass shootings.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump raised concerns about the sale of plastic guns made with 3-D printers.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York, Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell in Washington; Steve Holland; Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by James Dalgleish; editing by Phil Berlowitz and Grant McCool)