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Senate ratifies extension of plastic-gun ban

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Monday ratified the U.S. House's 10-year extension of the ban on plastic guns, but not until after Sen. Charles Schumer unsuccessfully tried to beef it up to include undetectable weapons made by 3-D printers.

The Senate action came at the last minute, just in time to avoid Monday's expiration of the 1988 ban on plastic guns that can't be detected by metal detectors or X-rays.

President Barack Obama, who is in South Africa to attend a memorial for Nelson Mandela, was expected to sign the extension by autopen before the law expired at midnight, a White House spokesman said.

The plastic-gun ban extension became a rare gun law passed by Congress this year despite the dozens of measures proposed by lawmakers in response to the mass killing at a Newtown, Conn., grade school last year.

Schumer, New York's senior Democratic senator, said the extension is a "good first step," but that it leaves a gaping loophole in the law by not updating it to address new technology.

"Terrorists, criminals are smart. They look for the weakest pressure points," he said, adding undetectable plastic guns are one of them.

Under the current ban, a weapon only must have some metal that a metal detector or X-ray can detect, but that allows guns to be produced with metal that easily can be removed to slip through security undetected, Schumer said.

His amendment, like the House bill proposed by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), would require an essential component of the gun to be made of metal or detectable material.

Schumer on Monday offered an amendment with that change, but Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) blocked it.

Grassley said Congress needed more time to study the measure before voting on it, and complained he saw the language only a couple of hours before the issue came up on the floor.

Grassley then proposed passing the House's extension of the law, and it passed without any senator objecting.

The National Rifle Association opposes an expansion of the plastic gun ban, but Schumer expressed confidence he can pass one in the months ahead.

Schumer noted what Grassley, an NRA favorite, said in response to Schumer's pitch on the Senate floor for the ban expansion: "I don't think I can find fault with anything Sen. Schumer said, except the matter of the timing."

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