Politics

December 10, 2013

Congress renews ban on undetectable, plastic guns

Republicans, however, block an effort to strengthen the ban by requiring that such weapons contain nondetachable metal parts.

By Alan Fram
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Narrowly beating a midnight deadline, Congress voted Monday to renew an expiring ban on plastic firearms that can evade airport detection machines. But Republicans blocked an effort to toughen the restrictions — the latest defeat for gun-control forces in the year since the grade school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

click image to enlarge

2013 Associated Press File Photo Cody Wilson holds what he calls a Liberator pistol that was completely made on a 3-D-printer at his home in Austin, Texas. Congress is extending a ban on plastic firearms that can slip past airport and school metal detectors and X-ray machines.

President Barack Obama signed the law before midnight, using an auto pen as he traveled to Africa for ceremonies honoring the late South African President Nelson Mandela. The device Obama used to sign the bill has been used for the signatures of traveling presidents since the administration of President George W. Bush.

By voice vote, the Senate gave final congressional approval to a 10-year extension of the prohibition against guns that can slip past metal detectors and X-ray machines. The House voted last week for an identical decade-long renewal of the ban.

GOP senators rejected an effort by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to strengthen the ban by requiring that such weapons contain undetachable metal parts. Some plastic guns meet the letter of the current law with a metal piece that can be removed, making them a threat to be slipped past security screeners at schools, airports and elsewhere.

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Congress should extend the ban for a decade and study Schumer's more restrictive plan to make sure it doesn't interfere with technologies used by legitimate gun manufacturers.

He said the bill's recent introduction suggests that "the real objectives were things other than just getting an extension."

At a news conference later, Schumer said he had "no ulterior motive" in proposing to strengthen the ban and said he hoped to find compromise with Grassley in coming weeks.

"The bottom line is technology advances and it does good things and it does bad things," he said.

Underscoring the issue's political sensitivity, both of Monday's votes were on unanimous consent requests. That meant any single senator could scuttle the proposals by objecting.

It also meant the votes were by voice and that no individual senators' votes were recorded. For a handful of Democratic senators seeking re-election next year in GOP-leaning states, the day's votes could have been difficult.

The National Rifle Association, which has been instrumental in blocking gun restrictions, expressed no opposition to renewing the law. But the gun lobby said it would fight any expanded requirements, including Schumer's, "that would infringe on our Second Amendment rights" to bear arms.

The rejection of stricter curbs highlighted the repeated setbacks for gun-control advocates in Congress since last Dec. 14. On that day, a gunman fatally shot 20 first-graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School before killing himself.

Despite that — and other recent mass shootings, including at the Washington Navy Yard just blocks from the Capitol — supporters of expanded gun control are nearing the end of a year in which they have been unable to push any new firearms restrictions through Congress.

"We're several decades behind the NRA," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. "This is a long game, and it's going to take us some time to build up the resources necessary to compete."

Congressional Republicans have resisted tightening the restrictions against undetectable guns, but those lawmakers — as well as the NRA — have not opposed renewing the current prohibition. The House approved a 10-year extension last week.

(Continued on page 2)

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