BALTIMORE, MD – Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh today joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general from around the nation in fighting a lawsuit that seeks to stop states from enforcing their laws against a company disseminating dangerous 3D-printed gun files on the internet. In an amicus brief supporting the petitioner in the case Grewal v. Defense Distributed before the U.S. Supreme Court, the coalition seeks to protect states’ efforts to stop Defense Distributed from unlawfully publishing easily-downloadable files on the internet that provide the instructions to build dangerous 3D-printed firearms, including assault weapons.
For years, Defense Distributed has attempted to widely disseminate dangerous internet files that give individuals the ability to manufacture unregistered and untraceable 3D-printed firearms that can be extremely difficult to detect, even with a metal detector. A number of state and local officials sent the company cease and desist letters ordering the company to stop breaking state laws. Defense Distributed then sued the officials in federal court in Texas, but ultimately only pursued its case against New Jersey’s attorney general. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that Texas courts had personal jurisdiction over New Jersey’s attorney general, the attorney general petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the case.
In the brief, the coalition argues that cease and desist letters are critical and cost-effective tools for enforcing state law, and, in the internet age, state and local officials increasingly must direct such cease and desist letters out of state. Because out-of-state entities, like Defense Distributed, operate online and, therefore, operate across state lines, state officials cannot protect their residents from violations of their own state’s laws by such entities without being able to send cease and desist letters out of state.
“3D-printed guns are untraceable and undetectable. Allowing Defense Distributed to purvey these dangerous weapons from across state lines would undermine Maryland’s gun safety protections,” said Attorney General Frosh. “We are proud to stand with our sister states in asserting Maryland’s right to protect its residents from these cheap and dirty weapons.”
Additionally, the coalition argues that the Fifth Circuit failed to account for critical state-sovereignty and federalism considerations when it found that the Texas courts had personal jurisdiction over New Jersey, in violation of longstanding Supreme Court precedent set out in cases, such as World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson. Specifically, the federalism principles underpinning that precedent do not permit the recipient of a cease and desist letter from an out-of-state official to sue the official in the recipient’s home state when the official is simply enforcing their own state’s laws as applied to the recipient’s activities in the official’s home state. The coalition makes clear that permitting suits in such circumstances – as the Fifth Circuit did here – forces a state official to risk burdensome and expensive lawsuits ensuing from an entity that reaches into the official’s state and violates that state’s laws. Putting a state official to that choice undermines state sovereignty and harms the state’s public interests by chilling legitimate law-enforcement efforts or dramatically increasing the costs of those efforts. It also encourages premature lawsuits against states in courts that lack expertise and a stake in the relevant state’s law.
The coalition asks the Supreme Court to review the Fifth Circuit’s decision, and ultimately to order the dismissal of Defense Distributed’s case in Texas for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Joining Attorney General Frosh in filing this brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.