The House voted Tuesday to renew a ban on undetectable plastic guns, sending the bill to the Senate, where Democrats must decide whether to accept it as is or pick a fight that could cause them to break the Dec. 9 deadline when the ban expires.
The proposed renewal, which passed the House by voice vote, would extend the Undetectable Firearms Act for 10 more years.
Democrats, citing advances in 3-D printing technology, say the law should be expanded to specifically require all guns to be made with at least some metal parts that can't be removed.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, vowed to force that fight next week when the Senate returns from a two-week Thanksgiving vacation, on the day the plastic gun ban expires. He has signaled that he is prepared to let the ban expire as he fights for tougher legislation.
"I'd rather have one day where you don't have a law and then they pass the tougher law on Tuesday than just have a 10-year extension and nothing else," Mr. Schumer said Tuesday. "The House passing this bill was a small first step, but it's certainly not enough."
He did say he'd prefer to have no gap at all and would seek unanimous consent to simply pass the House bill if the broader effort fails initially, but that he would continue to work on it if that happens.
Mr. Schumer and his allies say that expanding the law to require non-removable metal parts will make all guns detectable in airport or other building security checks.
It's unclear to what extent his fellow Senate Democrats are steeling for another fight over firearms ahead of midterm elections next year.
In order to overcome a potential Republican filibuster Mr. Schumer would have to win over at least some Senate Republicans and then try to work out an agreement with the House GOP.
The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Howard Coble, North Carolina Republican, extends the law, first enacted in 1988, making it illegal to manufacture, own, transport, buy or sell any firearm that does not register on a metal detector or does not present an accurate image when put through an X-ray machine.
"The fact that today's reauthorization passed by voice vote proves that there is overwhelming bipartisan support for this law," Mr. 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."
Mr. Schumer raised the issue in May when the State Department ordered Texas-based Defense Distributed to remove a 3-D gun model, called the Liberator, from its website.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also has issued warnings about the technology.
The ATF said federal firearms laws do not limit the technology or processes that can be used to make guns, but those who want to sell the manufactured weapons must obtain federal licenses.
Defense Distributed describes itself on its website as "a pending 501(c)(3) status nonprofit corporation in the state of Texas, organized and operated exclusively for charitable and literary purposes."
The organization said in a statement that the congressional push is "a gun-control effort wrapped in security theater."
Still, even House Democrats appeared to accept a straightforward extension with the prospect of revisiting the issue.
"I think the gun bill could be better, but this is a 10-year extension and obviously it can be worked on both in the Senate and the next Congress, and I think extending it is better than not extending it," House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Tuesday ahead of the vote.
The issue has split gun rights advocates.
Several groups urged House lawmakers to defeat the 10-year extension, saying it would give Mr. Schumer a vehicle for his plans and would ignite another fight over gun rights.
But the powerful National Rifle Association dismissed those concerns. In a statement, the group said its target is Mr. Schumer's bill, not Mr. Coble's.
"The NRA has been working for months to thwart expansion of the UFA by Sen. 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 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," the NRA said.
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