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Congress mulls over renewing plastic gun ban

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With 3-D printers able to produce plastic weapons so easily, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to renew a 25-year old ban on weapons that can evade X-ray machines and metal detectors.

The House bill easily passed on a voice-vote, renewing the ban for another ten years. The bill now goes to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it could be voted on as early as next Monday when it returns from a two-week Thanksgiving recess. The original bill is due to expire the following day.

With many lawmakers wanting to avoid any new fights over gun legislation, especially with elections coming up for many in 2014, attempts by a few House Democrats to amend the legislation were left to quietly die.

Some House Democrats wanted to amend the bill to require that the plastic weapons have as least one metal component to make them easier to detect. The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby opposed amending the legislation which would tighten the curbs on plastic firearms, leaving many lawmakers to vote with the majority.

While many are certain the Senate will vote in favor of the renewal legislation, critics are speaking out, pointing to the current law allowing detachable metal parts to be removed before the weapon passes through detection devices.

There is also concern over a longer renewal of the law because it would effectively limit Democrat's chances of using additional bills to extend the ban to include other firearms restrictions.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a smaller lobby representing the country's arms-makers and firearms retailers, sent a letter to Congress last month, saying they were in favor of extending the ban, but opposed amending the bill. The group wrote:

"We are always concerned that laws and regulations do not hamper the ability of our members to take advantage of technological advancements."

A conservative group called the Gun Owners of America opposes extending the prohibition law. A spokesman for the group, Mike Hammond, said laws such as the extension do nothing to stop criminals from making plastic weapons.

"They've just spent all year trying to effectively destroy the gun lobby," Hammond, legislative counsel for the group, said of Democrats. "So why in heaven's name, given this intransigence, should we give them this Christmas present?"

President Ronald Reagan first enacted the law banning plastic weapons in 1988. It has since been renewed twice, in 1998 and in 2003. When first enacted, computer technology wasn't as far advanced as it is today.

Now 3-D printers can repeatedly spray thin layers of plastic, creating everything from weapons, auto parts, toys, to intricate medical devices. The technology is still advancing and is being used by researchers, the aerospace industry, businesses and hobbyists.

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