WASHINGTON — The House quietly passed a 10-year extension of the current law banning undetectable guns on a voice vote with just a handful of lawmakers on the floor today.
But some Democrats protested that the ban will need to be even broader to require metal parts that cannot be removed in plastic guns to ensure they can’t slip through a “loophole” and slip through airport security.
The current law, which passed in 1988, bans guns that can’t be spotted by metal detectors. With its provisions about to sunset on Dec. 9, Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) pulled together an extension bill to cover guns that can’t be spotted on airport imaging technology.
“This ban on undetectable weapons has been in effect since 1988,” said Coble, 82, who is retiring next year. “And from all indications, the law is working well. This law has a sunset clause and has been reauthorized two previous times. If we do not extend this law again, the ban will expire on December 9, 2013. I hope the Senate will expedite this bill when it returns to work next week.”
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tried to push a reauthorization on their way out the door for the Thanksgiving break, but Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) blocked their attempt as the last GOP on the floor.
Schumer and Blumenthal argued that reauthorization is needed quickly because of the rapid development of technology in which a 3-D printer can be used to piece together a plastic gun.
“Nothing about this simple and common-sense legislation requires even a moment’s delay or debate,” Blumenthal said.
“Hidden, undetectable firearms serve no purpose other than to make it easier for criminals to take lives. That is why both houses of Congress unanimously approved reauthorization of the law in 2003,” he said. “Delaying these protections simply puts innocent American lives at risk. We need to stop playing politics with public safety and extend these protections immediately.”
While acknowledging that the bill would likely eventually pass, Sessions told Schumer “this is not a good day” for the legislation. The Dem sponsors tried to bring up the reauthorization just after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dropped the nuclear option to push through President Obama’s nominees.
The original law makes it illegal to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive any firearm that is not as detectable by walk-through metal detection, or any firearm with major components that do not generate an accurate image before standard airport imaging technology.
“The fact that today’s reauthorization passed by voice vote proves that there is overwhelming bipartisan support for this law,” Coble said. “While we have heard that some want to amend the bill when it arrives in the Senate, I urge our colleagues on the other side of Capitol Hill to quickly enact a clean 10-year reauthorization so that this ban on undetectable weapons will not expire.”
Those enhancements, though, came from the House as well with a Republican other than Coble on board.
Israel introduced his Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act with Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), which would require that certain major components of plastic firearms are made of non-removable detectable metal.
Israel said today he was a lead co-sponsor on the reauthorization with Coble “because I believe it is an essential first step in keeping Americans safe from the threat of plastic guns.”
“However, I don’t believe a straight reauthorization of the current law goes far enough, which is why today I introduced legislation that would close a dangerous loophole that exists in the current law by requiring plastic guns to be made with certain non-removable metal parts so they can be detected by metal detectors,” he added.
The bill would require that the slide and the receiver of a handgun and the slide, receiver and barrel of a long gun be made of detectable and non-removable metal.
Israel and his co-sponors maintain that there’s a loophole in the original ban that doesn’t specify whether the metal has to be permanently part of the plastic firearm or can be removable.
The legislation also states “any ammunition magazine, manufactured by a person who is not a licensed manufacturer that, after removal of the spring and follower, is not as detectable as the Magazine Security Exemplar, by walk-through metal detectors calibrated and operated to detect the Magazine Security Exemplar; or which, when subjected to inspection by the types of x-ray machines commonly used at airports, does not generate an image that accurately depicts the shape of the magazine.”
Co-sponsor Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said on the floor today that under the current law, “someone may produce a plastic firearm which is detectable only because it has a metal component, which is not essential for the operation of the firearm, but is easily removable by the firearm user seeking to avoid detection.”
Schumer said Monday that the renewal of the ban passed by the House today “is better than nothing, but it’s not good enough.”
“We absolutely must close the loophole that allows anyone to legally make a gun that could be rendered invisible by the easy removal of its metal part,” the senator said, adding that he’d ask for a unanimous consent agreement to renew the original legislation and close the loophole.
The National Rifle Association shot back today against what it called “misinformation” about its position on the ban and its renewal that “has unfortunately reached a heightened level.”
“The NRA strongly opposes ANY expansion of the Undetectable Firearms Act, including applying the UFA to magazines, gun parts, or the development of new technologies. The NRA has been working for months to thwart expansion of the UFA by Senator Chuck Schumer and others. We will continue to aggressively fight any expansion of the UFA or any other proposal that would infringe on our Second Amendment rights,” the group said in a statement.
The NRA did not oppose the House reauthorization that happened today.
“Unlike the Schumer proposal, the vote today in the U.S. House of Representatives on H.R. 3626, sponsored by Rep. Howard Coble, is a simple 10-year reauthorization — NOT an expansion — of current law. Other than extending the sunset date, H.R. 3626 makes no changes whatsoever to the underlying act,” the NRA said.
“Some groups have been circulating misinformation in order to create confusion over today’s House vote. To be clear, Rep. Coble’s bill DOES NOT expand current law in any way, as Sen. Schumer’s proposal would do. Again, the NRA strongly opposes any expansion of the Undetectable Firearms Act. By simply reauthorizing current law, however, H.R. 3626 does not expand the UFA in any way.”