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Editorial: Keeping pace with the real threat of plastic guns

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

Plastic guns that can pass unnoticed through metal detectors aren't just movie make-believe anymore.

Using a 3-D printer and plans found on-line, officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently produced such a gun and found it was capable of firing multiple rounds. Anyone can duplicate that feat at home, using a printer that costs as little as $1,000 and operates by spraying thin layers of plastic that are built up into solid objects.

Now that the threat of plastic guns is real, Congress should do what it can to minimize the risk that felons, terrorists or others with ill intent will be able to slip such firearms into airports, schools, government buildings and other supposedly secure locations.

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to reauthorize the expiring Undetectable Firearms Act for 10 years. That's better than allowing the 25-year-old law that bans guns without some component that can be spotted by metal detectors to lapse on Dec. 9 as scheduled. But the law has a gaping loophole. First enacted at a time when plastic guns were just a theoretical concern, the law can easily be thwarted by making some nonessential piece of a gun from metal -- for instance, a plate attached to the handle -- that can be readily removed making the gun undetectable.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) have a better bill, co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). It would require that plastic guns include multiple major components made of metal that cannot be removed, for instance the trigger handle, cylinder or barrel. The Senate should pass the bill and the House should accept the tougher requirement.

Congress needs to make sure the law keeps pace with rapidly advancing technology in this deadly arms race.