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Congress: Undetectable 3D-printed guns are still illegal

Legislators vote to renew an expiring ban on plastic firearms that are able to slip past metal detectors and X-ray machines.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Screenshot from a video by Defense Distributed showing the "Liberator" 3D-printed handgun being used. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

When Defense Distributed designed its 3D-printed handgun, it made sure to include a 6-ounce piece of steel within its entirely plastic firearm. This slice of steel was added to make sure metal detectors could identify the gun -- thereby ensuring it was in compliance with the US Undetectable Firearms Act.

It appears that all-plastic and 3D-printed gun makers will have to continue including metal in their firearms for at least the next 10 years. Congress voted Monday to renew a ban on completely plastic guns that aren't visible to metal detectors and X-ray machines, according to The Associated Press.

While Congress voted to renew the ban on undetectable firearms for the next 10 years, it didn't add any new restrictions on plastic guns -- such as making metal components difficult to detach. Many of the metal pieces added to plastic guns can be easily removed, which makes the firearms easier to sneak past metal detectors at schools and airports.

"Who in God's name wants to let plastic guns pass through metal detectors at airports or stadiums?" Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who fought for additional tighter restrictions, told The Associated Press.

Gun advocates like the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation didn't oppose the renewal of the ban, according to The Associated Press. But, the NRA did oppose any possible new restrictions.

The Undetectable Firearms Act was first passed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. It was then renewed in 1998 and 2003. And since then, 3D-printed gun designs have proliferated.

Defense Distributed's much-publicized "Liberator" 3D-printed handgun debuted in May. This firearm can be instantly downloaded from the Internet and anonymously printed; it fires standard handgun rounds and is made almost entirely of plastic. A similar 3D-printed rifle, dubbed "The Grizzly," was recently designed in Canada.

Printing these firearms requires an expensive high-end 3D-printer, and once printed, they're said to rarely work. However, 3D printing is expected to go through a major growth spurt over the next few years. And a recent 3D-printed gun made almost entirely of metal is said to be a much better shot than its plastic counterparts.

Besides federal legislation limiting plastic and 3D-printed guns, states like New York and California also have introduced possible laws that aim to curb such weapons. California Sen. Leland Yee is working on a law that would ban undetectable and anonymously printed guns. And, New York city and state legislators have introduced laws that would either regulate or ban the manufacture of 3D-printed guns.

Now that both the House and Senate gave approval on renewing the federal ban on undetectable firearms, the measure will go to President Obama for signature, according to The Associated Press.