WASHINGTON – Narrowly beating a midnight deadline, Congress voted Monday to renew an expiring ban on plastic firearms that can evade airport detection machines. But Republicans blocked an effort to toughen the restrictions – the latest defeat for gun-control forces in the year since the grade school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
By voice vote, the Senate gave final congressional approval to a 10-year extension of the prohibition against guns that can slip past metal detectors and X-ray machines. The House voted last week for an identical decade-long renewal of the ban, and the measure now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Obama, traveling to Africa for ceremonies honoring the late South African president Nelson Mandela, signed the bill before midnight using an auto pen, a White House official said.
GOP senators rejected an effort by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to strengthen the ban by requiring that such weapons contain undetachable metal parts. Some plastic guns meet the letter of the current law with a metal piece that can be removed, making them a threat to be slipped past security screeners at schools, airports and elsewhere.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Congress should extend the ban for a decade and study Schumer’s more restrictive plan to make sure it doesn’t interfere with technologies used by legitimate gun manufacturers.
He said the bill’s recent introduction suggests that “the real objectives were things other than just getting an extension.”
At a news conference later, Schumer said he had “no ulterior motive” in proposing to strengthen the ban and said he hoped to find compromise with Grassley in coming weeks.
“The bottom line is technology advances and it does good things and it does bad things,” he said.
Underscoring the issue’s political sensitivity, both of Monday’s votes were on unanimous consent requests. That meant any single senator could scuttle the proposals by objecting.
It also meant the votes were by voice and that no individual senators’ votes were recorded.
The National Rifle Association, which has been instrumental in blocking gun restrictions, expressed no opposition to renewing the law. But the gun lobby said it would fight any expanded requirements, including Schumer’s, “that would infringe on our Second Amendment rights” to bear arms.