WASHINGTON – With a law banning undetectable firearms about to expire, federal agents are focusing attention on the latest twist in high-tech weaponry: guns made entirely out of plastic.
3-D industrial printers that can create plastic models and prototypes now can make guns that can’t be picked up by metal detectors.
A longtime ban on undetectable firearms is scheduled to expire Dec. 9 and two Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer of New York and Bill Nelson of Florida, have called for a ban on plastic guns.
“The expiration of this law, combined with advances in 3-D printing, make what was once a hypothetical threat into a terrifying reality,” said Schumer. “We are actively exploring all options to pass legislation that will eliminate the problem.”
In a meeting with reporters Wednesday, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said plastic guns present a special challenge for law enforcement agencies.
The agents said that in order to comply with current law, a person manufacturing a gun must use a certain amount of metal in the finished product so that the firearm is detectable by scanners at airports, federal buildings, sporting events — any place where security screening is in place. If the law expires, someone could legally make and sell firearms that are undetectable.
A loophole in the existing law allows someone to make an illegal gun legal by simply attaching a removable metal piece to the weapon. That piece could be removed if someone wanted to sneak the weapon into a protected location.
ATF spokesman Christopher Amon said that the agency does not comment on specific legislation, but provides technical advice and assistance to members of Congress and their staff on a variety of firearms-related issues.
The Justice Department has not weighed in on the issue.