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‘Ghost Gun’ Plans Can Be Posted Online After Court Ruling

Plans for so-called ghost guns can be posted online after a federal appeals court overturned an injunction blocking the move and reinstated a Trump administration order that opened the door to the practice.

The State Department in 2018 removed 3D-printed guns from the Munitions List, and they were placed on the Commerce Control List, which is regulated by the Department of Commerce. That change effectively allowed plans for their construction to be posted online.

The State Department has control over the Munitions List and the court of appeals in San Francisco said Tuesday that courts aren’t empowered to review department decisions to add or remove weapons from that list.

President Barack Obama’s administration had blocked efforts to publish files for 3D-printed guns for years, arguing it would violate an arms-export law. But the State Department in June 2018 gave Defense Distributed — a small gun-technology company — the green light by settling a lawsuit with the company in a Texas court and removing the guns from the Munitions List.

A group of U.S. states, including California, sued the Trump administration, saying the regulatory change would let anyone with a 3D printer, including criminals and terrorists, make firearms at home. A federal judge in Seattle issued an injunction barring the State Department rule from going into effect.

But the appeals court said that was a mistake.

“The panel held that Congress expressly precluded judicial review of the relevant agency actions here,” the appeals court said. “The panel held that because both the DOS and Commerce Final Rules were unreviewable, the plaintiffs had not demonstrated the requisite likelihood of success on the merits, and therefore, a preliminary injunction was not merited.”

Guns that are printed at home are often referred to as ghost guns because they lack a serial number that could be used to trace them.

Xavier Becerra, who was California’s attorney general when the lawsuit was filed, said at the time that the Trump administration change would put airports, government buildings and schools at risk because such weapons are generally made from materials that can escape normal methods of detection. Becerra is now the secretary for Health and Human Services.

In March, President Joe Biden announced that he was taking executive actions to tighten firearms restrictions, including on kits that contain the components and directions to put together a ghost gun in as little as 30 minutes

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