Democrats have tried in vain in 2013 to get House Republicans to pass gun control measures they believe would curb violence such as the massacre in Newtown, Conn. Tuesday, however, gun control legislation which has a long record of bipartisan support and is sponsored by a House Republican with an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, is up for consideration.
The Undetectable Firearms Act will be voted on under a suspension of the rules, which means it will need a two-thirds majority to pass. Its lead sponsor is Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., a veteran lawmaker who represents portions of rural North Carolina. His bill would extend a law that bans the sale of firearms that can go undetected in a metal detector.
The law has been a source of bipartisan compromise in Congress since the Reagan administration. It was a forward-looking bill in 1988 when it was first authorized. Then it was aimed at ensuring large-scale gun manufacturers couldn't produce or sell weapons that could slyly bypass security checkpoints undetected. Now, in an era when consumers with a 3-D printer could make plastic guns at home, the law may have wider implications.
The vote in the House is expected less than a week before the current version of the legislation expires. The Senate, however, has yet to act and will be out of session until Monday.
Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., brought a similar bill up for a vote before leaving for the Thanksgiving holiday, but Republicans in the Senate objected. Democrats in the Senate warn that the rapid advance in 3-D printing technologies could produce more undetectable guns and more mass shootings.
"We are looking at a world in which anyone with a little bit of cash can bring an undetectable gun, that can fire multiple bullets, anywhere – including planes, government buildings, sporting events and schools," Schumer said in a statement. "3-D printers are a miraculous technology that have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, but we need to make sure they are not being used to make deadly, undetectable weapons."
While the NRA has not taken a position on the bill, other gun producers and up-and-coming gun manufacturers are worried the law may infringe on civil liberties as gun technologies become more accessible.
"When they passed the law in the 1980s, it was a pat-yourself-on-the-back kind of law," says Cody Wilson, the director of Defense Distributed, a gun-making company. "Now, it will actually affect people. Now it becomes a way to regulate an entire digital industry."
Wilson's company is on the forefront of digital gun technology. In April, Defense Distributed used a 3-D printer to produce the "Liberator," the first mostly-plastic gun of its kind. While the gun still has enough metal to be picked up in a security check, the gun could spur more plastic weapons. The gun design has been downloaded more than 100,000 times over the Internet.
The Gun Owners of America, another pro-gun group, sent an alert to members this week warning supporters to take action against Republicans in the House of Representatives who support the extension of Coble's bill.
"If Republicans gratuitously give the anti-gun far left a victory without firing a shot, they will have only succeeded in bringing to life a gun control movement which has, as a chief objective, the destruction of the Republican Party," the group said in a statement.