Plastic guns have become quite real with advances in 3-dimensional printing technology. The bullets these guns fire also are quite real, as is the weapons’ stealth to airport scanners.
In a week, unless Congress acts responsibly, important restrictions on plastic guns will be gone. That’s because on Dec. 9, the Undetectable Firearms Act, which became law under President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and has since been renewed twice, will expire. That should not be allowed to happen.
Renewal should be simple enough and uncontroversial, in part because the National Rifle Association, to the dismay of some of its members, hasn’t taken a formal position against renewal. Whether that emboldens any lawmakers is unclear, but we hope it does. On the other hand, another gun rights organization, Gun Owners of America, doesn’t think an extension is necessary because, it says, 3-D technology is expensive and not widely available.
The House of Representatives, to its credit, is expected this week to extend the Undetectable Firearms Act by 10 years. Passage is less certain in the Senate. There, members are trying to decide whether to simply renew the law or to amend it so that it deals with weapons that can be manufactured by 3-D printers. Also, some Senate Republicans worry that Democrats will load the bill up with other gun restrictions. Although other gun restrictions are worthwhile, they shouldn’t be allowed to sidetrack this specific piece of legislation.
Earlier this year, for the first time, a handgun was manufactured on a 3-D printer. Also, the New York Times reported last week that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, using designs downloaded from the website of Defense Distributed, a Texas organization, was able to assemble a plastic gun that could fire .380-caliber metal bullets.
Federal officials subsequently ordered the Texas organization to take the designs off of its website. Still, one can only guess at how many other times the plans were downloaded and what the downloaders’ purposes might have been.
The present law includes a provision that requires manufacturers to include some metal in order to make the firearms detectable. Unfortunately, that metal piece typically has no use and can be removed without affecting the weapon’s operation. Thus, an amendment requiring that the guns contain at least some nondetachable metal would be a step forward.
Renewing the Undetectable Firearms Act is a step forward that Congress should take this week, before lawmakers again shame themselves through inaction.