The Undetectable Firearms Act is Expiring, But Congress May Try To Extend It…Again

by Tommy Grant

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Many conservatives consider Ronald Reagan to be one of their great heroes. For some, he’s like the Chuck Norris of presidents, a great yardstick by which to measure current and future presidents. But as Doug Larson said, “Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.” The truth is that he was far from perfect, especially when it came to gun laws.

A few big mistakes stand out. As governor of California, he let racism and fear of the Black Panthers push his party to pass gun control laws that the state is still plagued with to this day. In order to get the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act passed, 1980s Republicans agreed to close the machine gun registry. Later, in the last days of his time in office, Reagan signed the Undetectable Firearms Act into law, and it’s something that we almost take for granted now.

The act forbade the manufacture, possession, and transfer of any gun that wouldn’t set off a metal detector. Guns with polymer and plastic frames have to have a certain amount of metal content to be compliant with the law. It also forbids the possession of weapons that wouldn’t look like a gun when passed through airport x-ray machines.

The reason Reagan and the NRA agreed to the law was silly. Some people feared that then-new designs like the GLOCK 17 would be undetectable, despite still containing far more than enough metal. Hollywood even capitalized on and spread the fear with the ridiculous “Glock 7” that appeared in Die Hard 2.

The Undetectable Firearm Act has been an increasingly problematic law. The NRA didn’t know it at the time (and wouldn’t care anyway), but the lack of plastic guns in 1988 was a reflection of the technology of the times, not a situation that would go on forever. Improved materials science and additive manufacturing (including 3D printing) made the law more problematic as time went on. Every time the law was renewed, it prevented more and more technology from being used in firearms.

The law is set to expire in February 2024. To keep this zombie around, the Democrats tried to sneak a permanent (no sunset clause) renewal into the “must pass” National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), AKA the military budget. But pressure and a narrowly Republican-controlled House managed to come together to get the language removed from the Pentagon budget.

You can always count on the swamp monsters to do swamp monster stuff, though. Just because the language was removed from the NDAA doesn’t mean it can’t reappear in some other unrelated bill or come up as a standalone measure. Low awareness of the law or how it can be misused (especially in combination with the Frame or Receiver Rule) means that it could sneak through and be passed into law.

That’s why we need to do whatever we can to oppose it. GOA has a webpage where you can send representatives an e-mail demanding that they don’t renew the law. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye out for news between now and February to see if they try to keep it alive.

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