Under current federal law, there is a ban on the “manufacture, sale, import or possession of guns that are undetectable by metal detectors and X-ray machines.” President Reagan signed the Undetectable Firearms Act into a law 25 years ago, and it’s been renewed with bipartisan support ever since.
But as we discussed two weeks ago, measures that used to pass Congress easily are now close calls in light of the radicalization of Republican politics. Indeed, in the case of undetectable guns, current law will expire on Monday.
To that end, the House “quickly” approved an extension of the status quo today, though the way in which the bill was passed was interesting.
By a voice vote, members passed the bill to extend the Undetectable Firearms Act for another 10 years. […]
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), said the law has had “overwhelming bipartisan support” in the past. However, he was the only Republican to speak on the bill, and the voice-vote approval prevented a detailed examination of how many Republicans opposed the bill.
So, House GOP leaders recognized the importance of keeping existing law in place, but didn’t want to deal with the political hassle of having an untold number of House Republicans take a bold stand in support of undetectable firearms in the hands of consumers. Instead of the usual roll call, then, we saw a voice-vote on the floor in a largely empty chamber.
As best as I can tell, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kan.) was the only member to object to the measure – a detail about which he was eager to boast (thanks to Joe Sonka for the tip).
Looking ahead, does today’s vote make an extension a safe bet? Not so fast. Many Democratic lawmakers in both chambers believe the House bill is far too narrow and fails to take technological breakthroughs into account, most notably weapons parts created by 3D printers.
To that end, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will reportedly push legislation when the Senate returns on Monday – the day the current law expires – that would require that every essential part of a gun include at least some detectable metal component. “The House bill is better than nothing, but it’s not good enough,” he said yesterday. “We absolutely must close the loophole that allows anyone to legally make a gun that could be rendered invisible by the easy removal of its metal part.”
If Schumer’s bill passes – we do not yet know how much resistance it would face from GOP senators – the House would have to act quickly to keep the status quo intact.
For what it’s worth, the NRA has not yet lobbied on this issue, though the even-more-conservative Gun Owners of America wants current law to expire altogether.