3D-printed gun blueprint website owner sues New Jersey attorney general in free speech challenge

February 11, 2019 GMT

The man behind a website devoted to sharing online blueprints for 3D-printed gun is suing the attorney general of New Jersey, after being alerted that the activity was violating a new gun control law.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in the fight to publish the plans online and challenges a law signed late last year that gun-rights advocates say criminalizes their free speech rights to post the blueprints.

“Whatever their claimed motive or agenda is, we know that their actual agenda is the disarmament of the people of New Jersey,” said Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition. “And if they have to infringe speech rights in order to red-line the right to keep and bear arms in their state, I think that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to do that.”

Mr. Combs and a coalition of gun-rights groups recently asked a federal court in New Jersey to block Attorney General Gurbir Grewal from enforcing the law and direct him to stop sending cease-and-desist messages over the online posting of the files.


The lawsuit, filed this month, says the New Jersey law is overly broad. Lawyers argue that it “criminalizes speech regardless of its relationship to illegal conduct.”

Among other provisions, the law bans people from sharing blueprints for 3D-printed guns with anyone in the state who isn’t a licensed firearms manufacturer.

Mr. Combs said he restricted the files on his website this month soon after a network provider he uses alerted him to a cease-and-desist notice.

“The website is up. The files that were hosted on the site are restricted currently, due to the demand that we received,” he said.

The message directed network provider Cloudflare, to delete the files within 24 hours “or we will be forced to press charges in order to preserve the safety of the citizens of New Jersey,” according to the lawsuit.

“This was both a first and a last straw, at least for us,” Mr. Combs said.

Mr. Grewal’s office had no comment on the lawsuit, but pointed to a statement the attorney general made in July when he announced a separate lawsuit to try to prevent Defense Distributed, a Texas-based company, from posting similar files online.

Mr. Grewal said then that the “dangerous files” would allow terrorists and domestic abusers to print “untraceable assault weapons” in their own homes.

“Once Defendants open that Pandora’s box, it can never be closed,” he said then.

A federal court last year halted Defense Distributed’s plan to post the files online, after a coalition of state attorneys general had sued to block them.

But Mr. Combs and other privacy advocates have tried to take up the mantle since then, saying the files are protected free speech.


They say they aren’t bound by the court ruling, since it put on hold a specific agreement Defense Distributed had struck with the State Department that would have allowed the company to start publishing the files last summer after years of legal wrangling.

“This isn’t about firearms. It’s about freedom of speech,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, which is a plaintiff in the new lawsuit.

Mr. Combs said traffic to the website has been about four times what it usually is in the short time since he announced the most recent lawsuit.

“Anytime they’re going to threaten prosecution over a speech issue, [this] speech crime that they have now in New Jersey, I think that that elevates the urgency and the need for the courts to act quickly,” he said.

There also has been some recent movement by the courts in other cases tied to the issue of 3D-printed firearm blueprints.

U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik recently denied a motion from the State Department for a four-month stay in the case that prompted him to block Defense Distributed from posting the files last year, as the Trump administration finalizes new export control rules related to the issue.

In a separate case, a federal judge in Texas recently dismissed a similar lawsuit Defense Distributed had brought against several state attorneys general who had tried to thwart the company’s plans, saying his court wasn’t the proper venue to hear the arguments.