The federal law banning undetectable plastic guns expires in two weeks and Congress is on a Thanksgiving vacation, making it likely the law will lapse — and opening up at least a temporary problem.
Gun control proponents say the search for a solution is even more urgent with the expanding capabilities of 3-D printers, which can manufacture plastic guns that can be untraceable through traditional means.
Racing the Dec. 9 deadline, Senate Democrats tried to speed through a bill last week keeping the ban in place, but a Republican objected, arguing the legislation had just been introduced hours before the chamber was scheduled to leave town. That objection halted the bill.
"[T]his is not a good day to move forward with this legislation," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. "We will be glad to give it serious attention. I know it is the kind of thing we probably can clear at some point."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and the bill's sponsor, said he understood Mr. Sessions' objection, given the upheaval in the chamber, but said that "this is serious stuff."
"What makes us need to do this rather quickly is that a few months ago someone in Texas published on a website a way to make a plastic gun, buying a 3-D printer for less than $1,000," Mr. Schumer said. "There are over 200,000 copies, hits on that website. People hit the website then, so we have to move quickly here. I hope we can move as soon as we get back."
The State Department in May ordered Texas-based Defense Distributed to take down a 3-D gun model, called the "Liberator," from its website.
Mr. Schumer's office said Monday there's still a chance to pass the renewal since the Senate convenes on the day the act expires, but if it does lapse, they will continue working to get an agreement to advance legislation as quickly as possible.
Federal law also says that gun parts and components must appear clearly when examined by X-ray machines commonly found in airports. The act was first passed by Congress and signed by President Reagan in 1988 and has been renewed twice since then — once under President Clinton and once under President George W. Bush.
In the House, Rep. Steve Israel, New York Democrat, has filed a similar bill that would make it illegal to manufacture, own, transport, buy, or sell any firearm or magazine that is homemade and not detectable by metal detector and/or does not present an accurate image when put through an x-ray machine.
Philadelphia, last week, became the first major U.S. city to ban 3-D-printed guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also has issued recent warnings about the newly available technology.
The ATF said federal firearms laws do not limit the technology or processes that can be used to make guns, but that people must obtain federal licenses if they want to sell the manufactured weapons.
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 Monday that the congressional push is "a gun control effort wrapped in security theater."
"Anyone can buy a plastic [magazine] and receiver online or at Walmart," the statement read. "Mandating arbitrary amounts of metal be part of their fabrication is an attempt to frustrate and suppress the development of this technology and narrow your liberties under your nose."
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