Washington – As the anniversary of the Newtown shootings nears, Congress not only seems unwilling to approve new gun control measures, but it's stalling on reauthorizing old ones.
The extension of a federal ban on guns designed to escape detection by metal detectors faltered this week when Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., used a procedural motion to prevent the Senate from approving the proposal by unanimous consent.
In the Senate, unanimous agreement on a bill fast-tracks the legislation. But just one senator can prevent expedited approval of a bill.
Proponents of the act, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., protested Sessions' move, saying reauthorization of the bill is needed quickly because of the rapid development of technology in which a 3-D printer can be used to fashion a plastic gun that can slip by metal detectors.
“Nothing about this simple and common sense legislation requires even a moment’s delay or debate. Hidden, undetectable firearms serve no purpose other than to make it easier for criminals to take lives,” Blumenthal said.
The Undetectable Firearms Act expires Dec. 9. It was last reauthorized by Congress in 2003, passing both chambers unanimously.
Congress first approved the act in the mid-1980s as an attempt to ban handguns like the Glock 17, which had frames and grips made from lightweight polymer. Their relative lack of metal content concerned lawmakers, who worried that they may be slipped by airport metal detection by terrorists.
Today’s concerns are focused on the guns made by 3-D printers, which have few or no metal components.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a proponent of extending the ban, said the new “wiki gun” technology has advanced to the point that anyone with $1,000 and an Internet connection can make a gun that can’t be detected by metal detectors or X-ray machines. The guns can also shoot several shots before they break down and stop functioning, Schumer said.
The New York Democrat also said that a blueprint for a 3-D printer gun was recently downloaded more than 100,000 times.
An aide in Sessions' office said the senator blocked approval of the Undetectable Firearms Act reauthorization because some senators protested they had not been given time to read the bill. “There are dozens of senators who want to read the text,” the aide said.
Some senators who support gun rights, like Sessions, worried that the text of the Undetectable Firearms Act might be broadened to include other gun-control measures.
Not only was there mistrust among senators on the issue of gun control, but Blumenthal and Schumer sought approval of the bill late Thursday when tempers were frayed over the so-called “nuclear option.”
Hours earlier, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., moved to change Senate rules so judicial nominees could not be subject to filibusters. That move was called the nuclear option because the rule change was considered divisive enough to blow up the Senate.
Brian Malte, a lobbyist with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he hopes the Senate will approve the Undetectable Firearms Act when it reconvenes after next week’s Thanksgiving Day and Hanukkah recess.
But the House must also approve the bill, and time is running short to meet the Dec. 9 deadline.
Malte said he’s concerned, but hopeful Congress will act in time.
“It’s worrisome that it hasn’t passed already because it’s a no-brainer,” Malte said.
Learn more about the manufacture of 3-D plastic guns from this video by Motherboard: