A 3D printed gun, seen in a factory in Austin, Texas on Aug. 1, 2018.
Kelly West—AFP/Getty Images
January 24, 2020 2:18 PM EST

Twenty-one states across the country, from New York to Hawaii, are suing the Trump Administration for weakening federal oversight of firearm and ammunition exports, a move which the states say will provide easier access to the technology needed for 3D-printed guns — and could thus make it easier for weapons to get in the wrong hands.

Filed on Thursday night, the lawsuit argues that, because of the federal government’s actions, there is now a “renewed threat” of downloadable guns “in the form of software or technology for the production of a firearm or firearm parts.”

“Anyone with access to such files and a commercially available 3D printer could readily manufacture, possess, or transfer such a weapon,” the lawsuit says. “This will seriously compromise security in locations that rely on standard metal detectors.”

A 3D printed gun is a plastic firearm that can be downloaded and produced with a 3D printer. A person could also a 3D printer to make parts for a “ghost gun” which is a self-assembled firearm usually built from unregulated kits that are sold online.

The Trump Administration filed a rule in the Federal Register earlier on Thursday, stating that the regulatory authority of certain firearms, ammunition and technical data sales and exports will in March be transferred from the U.S. Department’s Munitions List (USML) to the Department of Commerce’s Control List (CCL).

The regulatory authority ruling is scheduled to go into effect on March 9. States are hoping that their suit, however, delay the rollout — if not stop it altogether.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, who is one of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, says that the decision by the Trump Administration “poses a serious risk to public safety.”

“The federal government should be doing everything in its power to prevent dangerous individuals, including felons and terrorists, from getting their hands on files that allow them to print guns,” Grewal said in a press statement. “Instead, they keep trying to make it easier to disseminate these deadly weapons.”

According to the ruling by the State Department, the items being transferred from the USML to the CCL “do not provide a critical military or intelligence advantage to the United States and, in the case of firearms, do not have an inherently military function.”

The State Department, Commerce Department, and the Department of Justice did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment on the lawsuit, and their respective roles in firearms regulations

The USML is a federal list of items that are viewed as “defense articles or defense services.” Firearms, ammunition, missiles, explosives and 3D-printed gun codes can currently be found on this list. The CCL, meanwhile, is a list of categories and product groups that are used to determine if a license is necessary for U.S. exports.

Currently, the USML regulates all purchases and exports of firearms and ammunition — and because the USML is under the State Department’s purview, there are stringent regulations and requirements. The State Department has to consider factors including national security, terrorism, international crime and foreign policy when items from the USML are purchased and exported. (For example, if someone attempts to sell a large amount of assault rifles and ammunition on the USML, Congress is immediately notified and can choose approve or block the transaction.)

The CCL, on the other hand, comes under the Commerce Department’s authority. It is not overseen with a similar level of oversight, and has rules and regulations that are far less stringent.

The items being transferred include firearms using caseless ammunition, automatic firearms up to .50 calibers, automatic shotguns and firearm files that include 3D-printed gun codes. Posting 3D-printed gun files online constitutes an export of technical data, but since 3D-printing technology is part of files listed on the USML that will be moving to the CCL, the states involved in the lawsuit are arguing people will now be able to share those files online without any oversight from the State Department or Congress.

“The bottom line here is that this is, unfortunately, just another example of how the Trump Administration is siding with the gun lobby and ignoring public safety,” Adzi Vokhiwa, federal affairs manager at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence tells TIME. “This is a disappointing move from the administration.”

She adds that international concern is that these weapons could now be sold overseas to human rights abusers and criminal organizations in other countries, without tough regulations.

In 2018, when this ruling was first drawn up by the Trump Administration, the National Rifle Association (NRA) spoke out in support, claiming it would give American manufacturers “a larger footprint in international markets” and that it would result in “greater security and a more robust U.S. economy.”

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson adds that this decision is unlawful. Washington is also among the states filing the lawsuit.

“Why is the Trump Administration working so hard to allow domestic abusers, felons and terrorists access to untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed guns?” Ferguson said in a press statement. “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. We will continue to stand up against this unlawful, dangerous policy.”

Ferguson is referring to a 2018 tweet from President Trump when he said he was “looking into” 3D-printed guns being sold to the public.

 

That same year, however, the Trump Administration authorized the unlimited online distribution of downloadable files for 3D-printed guns, in response to a lawsuit filed by Defense Disturbed, an online open-source organization that provides downloadable blueprints for 3D-printed guns. Defense Disturbed had sued the Obama Administration in 2015 for forcing them to remove their files from the Internet.

The Obama Administration had argued in federal and appellate courts that the postings from Defense Disturbed violated firearm export laws and posed threats to public safety and national security.

Under the new regulation, a company or individual would still have to get a license from the Commerce Department to post information for a 3D-printed gun online. But crucially, Vokhiwa says, the lawsuit states that potential loopholes in the regulation will likely undercut the licensing process, especially with regards to the domestic sharing of 3D gun codes and templates.

“The Trump Administration shouldn’t be putting gun industry profits above public safety and human rights concerns,” Vokhiwa says. “Whether in the U.S. or abroad.”

Write to Josiah Bates at josiah.bates@time.com.

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