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Editorial: Keep ahead of plastic guns

From communications to surgery, our technological advances are something to behold.

You now have to include the 3-D printer as an evolving marvel. Although they’ve been around for a decade or so, their development is just beginning to open the door as a production tool for just about anything you can think of, from artwork to aircraft parts. As exciting as all this is, 3-D printers have the capability of helping to create dangerous items — like guns.

Plastic guns has been a concern for law enforcement and the federal government for some time. It’s why 25 years ago, Congress passed the Undetectable Firearms Act. At the time, lawmakers, law enforcement and segments of the general public were concerned about the manufacturing of plastic guns and the difficulties in detecting them. Under the act, plastic guns were banned unless they contained a piece of metal large enough to be picked up by a metal detector.

It’s this continued concern over plastic guns that had the House reauthorizing the act this week, something the Senate will take up as well. The 3-D printer has, perhaps, put a new wrinkle in this that Congress needs to address. Whereby plastic guns might have been seen as a futuristic idea or just an offshoot product from a firearms company back then, the 3-D printer has opened the doorway to just about anyone who has access to such a printer. Sure, you need a high-end printer now, but over time we have seen that not only does the technology get better, it often gets cheaper — and there are plans on the Internet for the printer and for the guns as well.

As an exercise, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently did just that, and in fact built a gun that fired multiple rounds, using plans that were put on the Internet.

What has people worried is that the required bit of metal — usually the firing pin — might be attached in such a way that is can easily be removed and carried separately, thereby allowing such a weapon to make its way onto an airplane, or courthouse or anywhere there are metal detectors in place.

It makes sense to try to close this loophole — that of making sure any plastic gun or magazine contain non-removable — and therefore detectable — metal parts.

Of course, such guns could still be made, but the mere possession of one would be a crime.

Senate Democrats, along with help from counterparts in the House, have drafted an amendment that will strengthen the law, set for expiration on Monday, and reduce the risk that plastic guns pose.

This seems like a common sense move for the common safety of us all.

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