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The Deadly Plastic Gun Loophole the House Extension Leaves in Place

The Deadly Plastic Gun Loophole the House Extension Leaves in Place

While holding the record for the least-productive and most unpopular Congress in memory, the Republican-controlled House took a sudden turn Tuesday and passed by voice vote a 10-year extension of a federal gun control law. That’s right, gun control, an issue that typically raises the hackles of the GOP, making the House’s quick action all the more stunning. The reason for the hurried burst of bipartisanship is a 10-year extension of the Undetectable Firearms Act, due to expire Monday, which mandates that all guns include metal parts that are detectable by screeners used at airports, courthouses, and other venues where public safety is at risk.

The legislation is the product of a rare alliance between a liberal New Yorker and a North Carolina conservative, Democratic Rep. Steve Israel and Republican Rep. Howard Coble. That’s the good news. The bad news for advocates of gun safety is that the law does not take into account technological advances that allow the creation, with a 3-D printer, of plastic guns that don’t rely on metal and can evade metal detectors. As the law stands, a metal piece is required, but nothing is said about the permanence or the functionality of the metal. With the advent of technology, someone could easily insert a small metal pin to align with the law, remove it as necessary to pass through security, and still have a fully functioning weapon to carry onto a plane.

If that sounds alarmist, think again. In April, a man managed to enter the Knesset under just such a scenario to bring a plastic gun within feet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In May, libertarian-leaning Cody Wilson, a law student in Texas and founder of Defense Distributed, released a blueprint for a plastic gun that can be downloaded from the Internet. An admirer of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Wilson says the plastic gun is a “Wiki Weapon” that he calls “The Liberator.” He believes that the right to create and carry firearms is unrestricted. (The Pentagon scrubbed the blueprint from the Internet three days later, but not before 100,000 copies were downloaded.)

When the Undetectable Firearms Act passed in 1988, gun manufacturers had begun using lightweight polymer in handguns. Concern that terrorists could use these guns to evade metal detectors prompted the bill’s passage. Nobody then could imagine fully plastic weapons, but they’re here, and Rep. Israel began sounding the alarm bells a year ago after reading an article in the Science section of The New York Times. “It was still science fiction. There was no such thing as a plastic gun, but it was in the works,” says an aide. Israel discovered that the law regulating plastic weapons was set to expire, and last December he introduced the first version of his Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act. It went nowhere in the GOP-controlled House. In April, he introduced a second updated version, and Tuesday, a third version that, like the others, would go nowhere.

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