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House passes plastic gun ban extension, Schumer wants tougher bill

Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) holds up a photo

Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) holds up a photo of a plastic AR-15 automatic weapon, produced by a 3D computer printer. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan, 2012

WASHINGTON -- With a quick voice vote Tuesday, the House passed a 10-year extension of the 25-year-old ban on plastic guns that can slip past metal detectors and X-ray machines undetected.

But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who called the extension "better than nothing, but not by much," said he'll try to pass a tougher bill in the Senate on Monday, the day the plastic gun ban is scheduled to expire.

"Next week in the Senate, we are going to attempt to pass a bill that not only extends the current ban," Schumer said, "but would close the loophole that allows for the manufacturing of plastic guns that can evade detection simply by removing a small piece of metal."

Schumer's move caught some House Democrats by surprise and put him at odds with Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who co-sponsored the 10-year extension with Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.).

"The law clearly needs to be improved, but I am not going to vote against one sensible step because we couldn't get every sensible step," Israel said. "That's why I led the House in passing a reauthorization of the Undetectable Firearms Act."

Many Democrats agree a tougher bill is needed, one aide said, but they believe it has no chance of passing in the Republican-controlled House before Monday's deadline.

Gun Owners of America and the National Association for Gun Rights lobbied lawmakers to let the ban expire. The National Rifle Association Tuesday said it backs an extension of the ban but not expanding it.

Before Thanksgiving, Schumer tried to pass a one-year ban extension to allow time for a tougher bill to be approved, but Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) blocked it.

The ban was first passed in 1988, and Congress has extended it twice, for five years in 1998 and for 10 years in 2003.

Yet technological developments, most notably the advent of 3-D printers, have created what Schumer calls a "dangerous loophole" in that ban.

The law now requires plastic guns to include enough metal to be detected in metal detectors and X-ray machines. But it allows the metal to be a simple strip that can be removed to make the gun undetectable.

Schumer said that he'll propose a bill to require plastic guns to have an essential metal component, such as the barrel.

Schumer said if that tougher measure is blocked, the Senate will pass the 10-year extension.

Israel also sponsors the House version of the tougher bill. But he said on the House floor Tuesday, "Even a loophole in a law is better than no law at all."

Schumer disagreed. He said the House passed the extension "at the behest of the most extreme elements of the far right, who actually believe there should be no restrictions on any type of plastic gun at all."

He said, "Those groups knew that their position to not to renew the ban was untenable, so they pushed for the weakest thing they thought they could achieve . . ."

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