Washington — In a rare bipartisan act, the House Tuesday approved a 10-year extension of the federal law that bans plastic guns that fool metal detectors.
But the move to renew a 1988 law that will expire Dec. 9 has also touched off a heated debate over “3-D” guns that can be made by special printers and have few or no metal parts.
The House bill approved on a voice vote Tuesday does not ban 3-D guns, which are legal under current law because they contain at least one metal part. Most gun control advocates said they backed the measure because they did not want the existing plastic gun ban to expire.
“Making it easier for criminals to hide firearms puts everyone’s safety at risk,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District.
But even if they voted for the House bill, some lawmakers were unhappy.
On the House floor before the vote, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-N.C., said, “We need to address the obvious problem” 3-D guns present to metal detectors and other types of security systems.
“But we needed to move quickly to update the law, and we don’t have time to be able to do that,” he said.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced a bill that would have updated the 1988 law — an attempt to ban handguns like the Glock 17, which had frames and grips made from lightweight polymer — so it included guns made by 3-D printers. But the measure was ignored by House GOP leaders.
In the Senate, an attempt last week by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to seek approval of the plastic gun ban faltered on a procedural move by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Sessions said he did not want the gun ban to be approved on an expedited motion by unanimous consent because few had seen the text of the legislation.
But the real reason for derailing the bill is that it contains the 3-D gun ban.
“Under current law it is legal to make a plastic gun so long as it has some metal in it, even if it is easily removable. The bill we’ll try to pass in the Senate would fix that,” Schumer said.
Blumenthal said “nothing about this simple and common-sense legislation requires even a moment’s delay or debate.”
Beth Levine, a spokeswoman for Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., said Senate Democrats “waited until the last minute” to address the expiring plastic gun law.
“Instead of just extending the law, they attempted to add matters that are untried and untested, and don’t have consensus,” she said. “The most we should be doing at this late date is what the House passed, a long-term five- or 10-year extension of current law. “
The Senate does not return from its Thanksgiving and Hanukkah break until Dec. 9, the day the existing plastic gun ban expires.
Because of the deadline, some gun control groups are urging senators to give up on their insistence on a 3-D gun ban, at least for now.
Brian Malte, a lobbyist for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said 3-D guns could someday prove deadly as technology to make them improves. He also said the metal pieces that make them legal can be easily removed before they go through a metal detector and added back later. But he said there is not time right now for senators to make a stand on the issue.
“We don’t want to let [the plastic gun ban] lapse while we’re thinking this through,” he said.
Gun rights groups are split on the issue.
Some lobbied House members to oppose renewal of the plastic gun ban, even if it does not include 3-D guns, because they are concerned Senate Democrats will turn it into a broader gun control push.
But the National Shooting Sports Foundation, headquartered in Newtown, said it supports an extension of the bill without the additions that would ban weapons manufactured using 3-D printing technology.
If Congress fails to outlaw 3-D guns, state and local governments may do so. Philadelphia was the first to do so with a law that carries a $2,000 fine for anyone that makes a 3-D weapon.