Sunday, February 18, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Undetectable guns and unbelievable senators

In the real world, that is to say outside the Washington Beltway, it would seem a no-brainer-squared exercise in common sense to extend a 25-year federal ban on producing guns that can go undetected through a metal detector.

This doesn't even rise to the level of duh.

And yet as the Undetectable Firearms Act, first signed into law by that great liberal Ronald Reagan, is set to expire Monday, the U.S. Senate wrings its gun-lobby-donation-tainted green hands and frets about the nonexistent slippery slope of where banning guns created through 3-D technology might lead us.

To a marginally safer nation, perhaps? Oh my!

The Senate is supposed to take up the Undetectable Firearms Act when it returns from its Thanksgiving vacation to work for 20 minutes before it adjourns again for its Christmas vacation. How these folks bear up under the crushing legislative demands imposed on them is nothing short of a tribute to the chamber's Spartanesque work ethic.

This is a sensible public safety law that ought to be approved in less time than it takes for Sen. Ted Cruz to read Green Eggs and Ham. Consider that the House of Representatives, which can't agree on the color of an orange, is expected to pass the measure when it gets back from its Thanksgiving holiday next week. We're not exactly talking about the galley slave scene in Ben Hur when considering congressional office hours.

At the time the Gipper succumbed to his inner Jane Fonda and signed the Undetectable Firearms Act in 1988, the ability to create a weapon sans any metal parts was not much more than a theoretical possibility. But since the 1993 thriller In the Line of Fire, in which Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent tracks down a presidential assassin who has crafted a gun able to get past a metal detector, the theoretical has become a reality.

Today, 3-D capability has made it possible to produce a metal-free weapon that would be embraced by hijackers, terrorists and all manner of criminal malcontents. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently assembled a 3-D printer gun capable of firing off multiple rounds of .380-caliber bullets. Don't you think — unless you're a U.S. senator — just a pinch of federal regulation might be warranted here?

Instead, senators such as Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama fret that sneaky colleagues might try to include in the legislation other reasonable gun control measures such as the elimination of the gun show loophole, or reducing magazine capacity, or banning assault weapons.

What are the chances of that happening? We are fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the Newtown school shootings in which 20 children and six school employees were murdered by a deeply disturbed Adam Lanza.

Since Newtown, some 11,094 people have died by gun violence. But if Congress couldn't approve commonsense gun controls after such a horrific crime and all of the other deaths that have followed, even with overwhelming public support, why should Sessions and the rest of the gun lobby's handmaidens fear similar gun control efforts would fare any better today?

Banning 3-D printer-produced weapons? Can we at least do that?

The National Rifle Association, which includes Congress as one of its wholly owned subsidiaries, has not signaled where it stands on the plastic gun legislation. That might suggest it is willing to give some wiggle-room to its more weak-in-the-knees congressional statesmen to vote their conscience — if they have one. It also might suggest the NRA seems incapable of committing a rational thought.

The Gun Owners of America was more than willing to pick up the delusional black helicopter/we're all doomed slack. It argues the 3-D weapons ban is unnecessary because the technology is new and not broadly available. Perhaps. But what about two or three years from now?

Extending the Undetectable Firearms Act hardly demands bold, visionary, courageous leadership, which is a pipe dream to begin with. It merely requires a Senate to do the right thing.

Alas, in Washington that could be a virtue not even a 3-D printer could create.

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