The 25-year-old law banning the manufacture of guns not easily screened by metal detectors will expire Dec. 9, a deadline that holds new urgency for lawmakers concerned about the development of 3-D printing technology and the printing of plastic guns.
The Undetectable Firearms Act was passed in 1988, then renewed in 1998 and again in 2003. The law originally envisioned the problem of guns with low metal content being brought through security checkpoints without being caught by traditional metal detection devices.
Now, 25 years since the law's inception, it is possible to have plastic guns created by 3-D printers at home. It's a novel issue that Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., hopes to address as the old law expires.
The prototype for a gun that could be created through 3-D printers — deemed "the Liberator" by its designers, a Texas group called Defense Distributed — was downloaded more than 100,000 times since it was uploaded online earlier this year. The original host took down the blueprints after the State Department objected.
Schumer has warned of the “scary pace” of plastic gun development, and says that anyone with an Internet connection and "a little over $1,000" can now produce an undetectable plastic gun.
“We are looking at a world in which anyone with a little bit of cash can bring an undetectable gun, that can fire multiple bullets, anywhere — including planes, government buildings, sporting events, and schools,” Schumer said. “3-D printers are a miraculous technology that have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, but we need to make sure they are not being used to make deadly, undetectable weapons." '
The New York Democrat proposed the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act to address the issue. The bill would extend the ban to any gun that “would not be detectable by walk-through metal detectors or would not generate an accurately shaped image of the object on an X-ray machine,” according to Schumer’s office.
The legislation for the first time would explicitly target guns manufactured by people without a license, including those interested in printing “the Liberator” at home.
Before the Senate adjourned for a two-week recess, Schumer tried to pass his bill by unanimous consent. Schumer and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had introduced the bill's language only hours before, and Democrats had just angered many Republicans by invoking the "nuclear option" and changing the Senate's filibuster rules.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who was on the Senate floor, objected to Schumer's request. Sessions' office later told the Washington Examiner that the senator was merely objecting on behalf of dozens of his colleagues who had not had a chance to review the bill. Sessions himself voted in favor of the Undetectable Firearms Act's reauthorization in 2003.
It remains an open question whether Congress will reauthorize the ban on undetectable weapons before the provision expires, because of a packed congressional calendar and lawmakers' general reluctance to rush gun legislation. The House could take up the bill the week of Dec. 2, leaving it in the hands of the Senate when it returns to Washington Dec. 9.
For its part, Defense Distributed objected strongly to the bill, accusing those who supported it as acting “like any good police state should.”
“The goal of a new Undetectable Firearms Act is to make development and experimentation with these computer-aided devices fraught with danger and difficulty for the common man … and to enable a means for arbitrary and capricious enforcement,” the group wrote on its blog.