Nessel joins fight in support of states' right to enforce laws against 3D-printed 'ghost gun' files

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined a coalition of 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 in 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 internet files that provide instructions to build dangerous 3D-printed firearms, including assault weapons. 

“Despite law enforcement efforts, Defense Distributed continues to recklessly, and illegally, make 3D-printed firearms easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection,” Nessel said. “These so-called ‘ghost guns’ are unregistered and untraceable, making them especially dangerous. States must have the ability to enforce our own laws and use the tools at our disposal to fight back against these illegal efforts in order to protect our
communities.” 

For years, Defense Distributed has attempted to widely disseminate 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, he petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the case.

In the amicus 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 letters out of their jurisdictions. Because out-of-state entities, like Defense Distributed, operate online and 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. 

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 letter was sent from the official’s home state, and the official is simply enforcing his or her 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 in a foreign forum as the cost of protecting state residents from an entity that is reaching into the official’s state and violating that state’s laws. Putting a state official to that choice undermines state sovereignty and harms the public interests of the official’s state by chilling legitimate law enforcement efforts or else dramatically increasing the costs of those efforts, including by encouraging 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 order the dismissal of Defense Distributed’s case in Texas for lack of personal jurisdiction. 

Joining Nessel in filing this amicus brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

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