Washington - Gun-safety activist Fred Guttenberg arrived in Washington to address the Democratic caucus on Monday, furious that Congress had failed to prevent the potential spread of 3-D printed guns.
After a multi-year legal battle, the federal government last month entered into a settlement with Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson, permitting him to publish his arsenal of fire arm blueprints online. He intends to do so on August 1. Lawmakers' eleventh-hour efforts have done nothing to halt his plans, and on Friday a federal judge denied a motion for an emergency injunction brought forward by a trio of gun-control groups.
Guttenberg, who has become a powerful voice against gun violence since his 14-year-old daughter was killed in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, told The Post he was dismayed by his visit to the Hill. Five weeks have passed since the settlement was signed, yet only a handful of senators were aware of it, he said. Guttenberg also said not a single House member knew, including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch, both Florida Democrats.
"I don't know how we got to this place and no one was paying attention," he lamented. "This is the safety of this country and its citizens who are now at risk in their offices, in courthouses and on airplanes."
With less than a week to scuttle the settlement, Wilson has been bombarded with last-minute legal threats from lawmakers and advocacy groups.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York led the call to action on Saturday, warning of the dangers posed by the weapons, sometimes dubbed "ghost guns," which are made from plastic and cannot be sensed by metal detectors.
"Ghost guns are as scary as they sound - a terrorist, someone who is mentally ill, a spousal abuser, or a felon can essentially open a gun factory in their garage. No background check, no training," he told The Washington Post.
On Tuesday, Sen. Edward Markey, joined by Sens. Bill Nelson, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy and Dianne Feinstein, all Democrats, sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, demanding he explain the government's decision to settle. Nelson also plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit online publication of any digital file that can be downloaded or programmed to print a 3-D gun part.
Throughout the week, other lawmakers have joined the crusade: New Jersey's attorney general sent Wilson a cease-and-desist order, warning that making the digital files available to New Jersey residents was a violation of the state's law. Deutch wrote a letter on Thursday co-signed by 40 members of the House calling for a hearing before the looming deadline.
"Maybe when my colleagues realise that the end result is a plastic gun possibly getting through security in the Rayburn building, they'll return to Washington and let us hold hearings on stopping this danger before it gets too far," Deutch told The Post.
But as time runs out, it remains unclear whether the belated efforts will succeed.
"All the letters are nice, but they do nothing," Guttenberg said. "At 12:01 on the 1st of August, it's going to be too late."
Wilson manufactured the first fully 3-D printed pistol in April 2013, when he was 25. He posted the design files online, to an unregulated file-sharing website. In a few days the site saw more than 100 000 downloads for the firearms, which would not have serial numbers and thus be impossible to trace. The federal government alleged that by uploading the weapon blueprints, which constituted an export under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Wilson had violated federal law.
After years of legal fighting, the federal government stunned both Wilson and gun-control advocates with a wholesale reversal of position. On June 29 it entered into a settlement with Wilson that, in addition to fronting $40 000 for his legal fees, crafted an exemption from the ITAR regulations, allowing Wilson's company to post 3-D firearm blueprints online for unlimited international distribution.
Wilson plans to relaunch next week.
Three organisations - the Brady Centre to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Giffords Law Centre to Prevent Gun Violence - jumped into the fight on Thursday, filing an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction. A hearing was held on Friday before federal Judge Robert Pitman, who had sided with the government in Wilson's earlier 3-D gun printing litigation.
On Friday, however, Pitman sided with Wilson, denying the groups' motion.
The Department of Justice declined to comment.
Days from now, Wilson will likely be able to post far more than basic handguns on a searchable database.
"Once the plans are up on the Internet, it's impossible to un-ring the bell," said Jonathan Lowy, vice president of litigation at the Brady Center. "The genie is out of the bottle and you can't put it back in."