Washington (AFP) – U.S. lawmakers, divided over how to regulate home-made firearms, moved Tuesday to extend restrictions on guns that can slip past metal detectors into secure areas like passenger planes.
Some Republicans opposed to new gun-control measures nevertheless want to extend a decades-old law in order to prevent a lapse in a ban on weapons that can evade detection and pose nightmares for law enforcement.
But many Democrats want to go further to address the increasing concern of homemade plastic guns, whose production has been made possible by 3-D printing technology.
Debate about home-made guns took off earlier this year when a Texas-based group, Defense Distributed, posted its blueprints for a fully functional, 3D-printed firearm, a single-shot pistol made almost entirely out of hard polymer plastic.
The existing law, which bans firearms that have no metal, expires next week, and the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved by voice vote a 10-year extension.
“In 1988, when we passed the Undetectable Firearms Act, the notion of a 3-D printed plastic firearm slipped through metal detectors onto our planes and secure environments was a matter of science fiction,” said Democrat Steve Israel.
“The problem is that today it is a reality,” added the congressman, who has introduced legislation that expands the law to prohibit removing metal components of a firearm even if they are not essential to the weapon’s use.
Some Republicans have expressed concern that any tweaking of the law could be used to tighten other gun legislation down the road.
“The House bill is better than nothing, but it’s not good enough,” said Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer on Monday as he called for closing a loophole that allows “anyone to legally make a gun that could be rendered invisible by the easy removal of its metal part.”
Lawmakers will need to act quickly, something a divided Congress has difficulty doing. While the House is in session this week, the Senate does not return until December 9, the day the law expires.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has not taken a public position on the issue.
A smaller group, Gun Owners of America, argues against extending or updating the law, arguing that the blueprints have already been downloaded by hundreds of thousands of potential makers.
“That genie is out of the bottle,” Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for the group, told AFP.
He said people who intend to wreak havoc with a firearm likely would not turn to such weapons or care about violating the plastic gun ban.
He also noted that existing law already makes it a crime to build a gun that is not in the traditional shape of a firearm, which means airport security will be able to see and recognize guns even if made of plastic.
The House move comes days before the one-year anniversary of the massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults with a semi-automatic rifle.