Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
House Republicans have finally found a piece of gun control legislation they can support, voting overwhelmingly on Tuesday for a 10-year extension of the nation's plastic gun ban.
However, the vote was not tallied exactly as it fell. House Speaker John Boehner put it up to a voice vote only, despite the National Rifle Association's silence on the matter, blocking the public from identifying how their representatives voted.
Extending the 1988 Undetectable Firearms Act is the first time this Congress has approved a piece of gun control legislation. A previous attempt by Democrats to expand background checks and close loopholes for firearms purchasers was completely shut out. Ever since, tea party Republicans who control the House have refused to discuss any type of gun control measure, especially after President Barack Obama said he would like to see the assault weapons ban reinstated.
The law Republicans ultimately supported on Tuesday was originally signed by President Ronald Reagan after an intense lobbying campaign by a group that would later become The Brady Campaign, founded by Reagan's former press secretary James Brady, who was shot and rendered disabled by would-be assassin John Hinkley, Jr. It has since been extended twice with overwhelming bipartisan support.
While the law initially passed in 1988 because it did not actually affect any firearm available for sale back then, that is not the case today. A libertarian firearms enthusiast from Austin, Texas, recently released schematics for what he called "The Liberator," an all-plastic gun that can be produced by consumer-level 3D printers. The weapon's inventor got around the plastic gun ban by inserting a small metal cube into the device, even though it's not required to function.
Democrats were also overwhelmingly in favor of extending the plastic gun ban, but wanted to expand it to regulate the use of 3D printers. With the current ban set to expire on Monday, the Senate will take up debate next, and Democrats plan to make a push for enhanced controls over 3D printing technology.
It's unclear if Republicans will be as receptive to updating the plastic gun ban to address the dangerous applications of 3D printing.
"The House bill is better than nothing, but it's not good enough," Senator Chuck Schumer told CNN. "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. Under current law, it is legal to make a plastic gun so long as it has some metal in it, even if it is easily removable. The bill we'll try to pass in the Senate would fix that."
Photo: Flickr user joshlopezphoto, creative commons licensed.