Bill Nelson wants to ban 3D printer-made plastic guns that can evade metal detectors

Cody Wilson holds a gun he made on a 3D printer in his Texas home.
Cody Wilson holds a gun he made on a 3D printer in his Texas home. AP

Less than six hours before the blueprints were set to go online, a federal judge on Tuesday evening halted the planned release of the plans that would make it possible for people to make assault weapons out of plastic with 3D printers.

Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic attorneys general around the country had urged the Trump administration and the courts to take last-minute action, and their pleas were answered when U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik issued a temporary restraining order that prevents people from making guns that are untraceable by metal detectors.

“Now we need Congress to do the right thing and pass our bill to permanently block these blueprints from ever being published,” Nelson tweeted after the judge granted the temporary delay.

The Florida Democrat introduced a bill on Tuesday that would block the online publication of gun blueprints, after the Trump administration decided to settle a lawsuit by a Texas anarchist who built a gun out of plastic in 2013 and posted the instructions online.

The Obama administration ordered the instructions to come down at the time, and the Department of Justice defended the government’s action in court after the anarchist sued for the right to publish, until the agency reversed course in June.

“It just defies common sense and yet this is what the Trump administration has done,” Nelson said. “Just think of the billions of dollars we spend trying to protect national security. And now, suddenly there is going to be published on the internet the plans for making a gun that can evade the detection systems in airports and seaports and all of these governmental buildings as well as some sports stadiums.”

The blueprints would have gone online by 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. On Tuesday morning Trump tweeted, “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

Nelson’s legislation to ban the blueprints, the latest push for stricter gun control measures among Florida Democrats after the Parkland shooting, was largely symbolic given the tight deadline to enact it before the blueprints were to go online. He tried to pass the bill with unanimous approval on Tuesday, but Utah Sen. Mike Lee blocked Nelson’s fast-track procedure. It is already possible to access the blueprints on the dark web to make guns that range from single shot pistols to AR-15-style assault rifles.

The bill builds on an earlier effort by Nelson to ban all guns that are made out of plastic or any other material that can evade metal detectors. Nelson introduced the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act in Congress last year, a bill that would require every firearm’s “major components” to include materials that can be detected by walk-through metal detectors and include a serial number. A “major component” includes the barrel of any rifle or shotgun.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Nelson recounted the plot to the 1993 Clint Eastwood thriller “In the Line of Fire,” in which a would-be presidential assassin made a gun out of plastic and hid his metal bullet in a rabbit’s foot to evade detection.

“This is what we are up against in evading the detection systems which is a direct threat to the national security and certainly to our personal safety,” Nelson said. The Obama administration argued that posting the blueprints online violates U.S. arms embargoes because anyone with access to the internet and an expensive 3D printer in another country could build a gun.

Nelson was flanked by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and a host of gun-control groups. The Florida Democrat, who is facing a challenge for reelection from Gov. Rick Scott, is stuck in Washington during the height of campaign season because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell canceled the planned August recess.

In 2013, Congress extended a ban on the sale, manufacturing or possession of guns made entirely of plastic by requiring that all firearms have at least 3.7 ounces of steel so they can be caught by a metal detector. Nelson argues that his legislation is necessary because Congress didn’t determine which parts of the gun had to be metal, meaning someone could attach a removable piece of metal to a fully plastic gun, making it easy to avoid detection.

Conservatives argued that Nelson’s bill was superfluous, given the existing ban on all-plastic guns.

“Even Congress can’t ban 3D printers, the internet, or the 1st Amendment,” Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted on Tuesday. “The President certainly can’t. And besides, there’s already a law against undetectable guns.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who represents Parkland in Washington, also announced that he plans to introduce a bill in the House that would ban 3D-printer-made guns.

“Metal detectors at schools and airports won’t matter if people are able to sneak guns past check points,” Deutch said in a statement. “We can’t delay. If bolstering security is something Democrats and Republicans can agree on, then the House Republican leadership must call the House back into session to urgently address this issue.”

Eight states and the District of Columbia sued the Trump administration in an attempt to stop the blueprints from going online. The company that plans to publish the blueprints, Defense Distributed, hailed the Trump administration’s decision to drop the lawsuit against them.

“The age of the downloadable gun formally begins,” the company said on its website.

Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times contributed to this report.

Alex Daugherty, 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty