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On December 9, a law banning firearms that can go unnoticed by a metal detector is set to expire. Since 1988, the Undetectable Firearms Act has banned undetectable guns, which can be made from plastic through 3D printers.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) have introduced legislation that expands the undetectable firearms law to ban 3D-printed guns, require guns to be recognizable as guns, and them to contain significant metal. “The expiration of this law, combined with advances in 3D printing, make what was once a hypothetical threat into a terrifying reality,” Schumer said, according to the Associated Press. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced his own version in the House to renew the law. Still, the urgency of the issue does not mean Congress will take up the bills in its remaining days.
Even the soon-to-expire law contains a major loophole that permits plastic guns as long as they have a small metal piece that could be easily removed. One widespread model, the Liberator, uses a nail so small that it would not be picked up by metal detectors. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently tested the model, only to find that “the .380 bullets fired from the Liberator penetrate sufficiently to reach vital organs and perforate the skull.”
It is still expensive to print a working gun, upwards of $100,000, although the technology is becoming cheaper and more widespread. “This is more for someone who wants to get into an area and perhaps be an assassin,” an ATF official told the Wall Street Journal. “Or they want to go to a courthouse and shoot a witness.”
The Department of Homeland Security has reportedly warned that it may be impossible to limit access to 3D printed guns. Given current law, the challenges are immense: 3D printed guns don’t require a license to make or own and the amount of metal required is often not enough to be detected by metal detectors. As policy lags behind, the technology keeps progressing. Now, 3D printers can manufacture bullets and metal guns, too.