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It is a sign of the strength of the gun lobby, and an indication of just how unyielding that lobby can be, that a proposal to make sure an assailant can't easily create and slip a plastic gun through a metal detector appears unlikely to win approval in the Senate.
At least a bipartisan bill, extending the 25-year-old ban on non-metal guns, passed on a voice vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The plastic-gun ban initially won approval in 1988. At the time lawmakers were concerned about the potential for such a weapon, now it is a reality.
In May, University of Texas law student Cody Wilson posted blueprints online for using a 3-D printer to make the "Liberator" pistol. The State Department forced him to take the instructions down, contending the international access to the blueprints violated arms export control laws, but by then the plans had been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
When the Senate returns to work today, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would like to make a reasonable amendment. As now written, the law only requires that a plastic gun have some metal in or on it, making it detectable to scanners. However, the law allows that piece of metal to be detachable; meaning a person up to no good could safely carry around a legal plastic gun, then remove the metal to get through a detector.
Sen. Schumer seeks to close the loophole by requiring that the metal be permanently attached as part of the gun's firing mechanism. Such a law would also block people from cranking out "Liberator" guns on 3-D copy machines, then attaching metal clips to make them legal.
Astoundingly, the National Rifle Association vigorously opposes the Schumer proposal. It wants no expansion of the Undetectable Firearms Act, contending it would erode Second Amendment protections.
The Gun Owners of America group goes further. It did not want the ban extended at all.
Unfortunately, the Senate may have to settle for approving the ban as now written. Political fear of the NRA remains so strong in some states that Republicans and a few fearful Democrats will likely block the Schumer amendment. Without a resolution, the ban, as flawed as it may be, would expire at the end of the year.
If the Schumer bill stalls, the Senate should join the House in approving the existing ban.