What Will Happen to the Undetectable Firearms Act?

The Undetectable Firearms Act was introduced into the 100th Congress back in the year 1988 by our good friend William Hughes. Yes, that Hughes. It was in response to the big plastic gun scare that was whipped up by Handgun Control Inc, former name of the Brady Campaign, back in the days when they were relevant. NRA opposed the original bill, but dropped opposition to the bill once its requirements no longer met the the criteria of any actual guns currently in production. In other words, the bill had no actual, practical impact.

If nothing is done, the UFA will expire on December 9th. This is not the first time it has has been set to expire. The first expiration date was ten years after the first enactment, in 1998. In 1998, it was extended for five additional years. In 2003, it was again extended for an additional ten years. Given that it’s been readily extended by both parties, I have no expectation that we have a prayer of stopping extension. The big threat is that the UFA will be expanded to include a ban on manufacturing a polymer receivers or magazines by non-FFLs, even if the polymer used is doped with a chemical that renders it radiopaque, or is made from a polymer that is dense enough to be easily x-ray detectable. This is because it also must contain enough metal that it sets off an x-ray machine calibrated to the security exemplar. The existing UFA law regarding metal content only applies to the entire firearms, minus grips, stocks, and magazines. By creating a separate requirement, applicable only to non-licensees, it effectively bans home fabrication, or smithing done under the auspices of a dealer FFL, which is typically sufficient for gunsmiths. Additionally, it also creates a requirement to have a manufacturer’s FFL to create magazines, which is not currently the case.

I am not optimistic we have the juice to stop UFA renewal outright. We haven’t any time in the past, when this outlawed what only existed in the imaginations of our opponents. But 3D printed plastic guns have been all over the news. Even people at work are asking me about it the topic. We might all know this is really nothing new, and that a plastic gun is about as much of a threat to the person pulling the trigger as it is to the person it’s being pointed at, but the public does not generally know these things. This law getting expanded to restrict hobbyists is a very real possibility, and something worth contacting your congress critters over.

28 thoughts on “What Will Happen to the Undetectable Firearms Act?”

  1. I think we can stop it. I think we can get enough people to understand its a useless law, but one that will harm gun owners, especially if we tell legislatures “This is a gun control bill. Vote for it and you will pay.”

    Gun control is again a third rail. Let’s make it clear to stay that way.

    1. I’m not optimistic about this issue’s ability to motivate people. The reason we’ve managed to make the assault weapons and magazine issue a third rail is because it affects a lot of gun owners, who are willing to get off their butts and do something.

      I’d never discourage anyone from writing their reps and telling them flat out no, no, no…. that’s usually what I recommend. But I also think we should be realistic about what can be accomplished. The UFA doesn’t really affect anyone as it stands. Even the suggested expansion is not likely to affect a large number of gun owners.

      And I agree we need to keep preaching the uselessness of this law, but the first target of that should be your fellow gun owners.

      1. If this were only a 10 year extension to the UFA then I’d be less worried about its passage. Does the proposed bill have a sunset provision?

        One thing that was good (if there was anything at all) about the AWB was that it was a sunset provision. I think if most laws like this passed had a sunset provision so that people could look back and see if it really did its job (which the AWB clearly didn’t) as opposed to it being a kneejerk bill (which all of them are) then we would see some improvement.

  2. This is a “gun control issue.” Why are you admitting defeat? There doesn’t appear to be an appetite to do something by anyone outside of the typical nanny state Democrats one would expect.

    1. The House will pass an extension. I think you can take that to the bank. The optics of the issue don’t work in our favor, which is why we’ve lost on this three times under control of both parties. Do you want to defend guns that can slip past airport screening? Not a hill I want to die on, and I don’t think we have the numbers on this issue to drive any other outcome.

      1. Then there’s no reason why National CCW couldn’t get tacked on if you are so sure it will pass.

  3. Incidentally, this is also one of these issues that the NRA will probably stay silent on as they have done on more “marginal” stuff. I would fully expect them to stay silent on anything relating to NFA items, too.

    1. The NRA has been getting more vocal on some NFA items.

      They’ve been doing tagalong / support for quite a few legalizing hunting with supressors efforts.

      1. Right. Those laws affect usage. But I guess what I’m saying is that the legality of overall ownership (as in right to own) of these items as a whole is something they don’t get involved in.

      2. There needs to be a constituency for suppressors before you can have a prayer of removing them from the NFA. The problem is, with the new regs ATF is going to pass, they will likely end that. The reason trusts are popular is because they are easier, and don’t require LEO sign off, which is often not possible to get.

        A lot of gun owners don’t get how small the constituency is for NFA items is. That’s growing, and that will help. But it’s still a very small number of gun owners.

        1. But I think its getting bigger. That’s why there is the 15 month wait now. I just got into it after years of being a gun owner.

          Yes, the ATF regs will hurt- but that also may help those who want them be more politically motivated to fix it.

          1. Posted in the other.

            An attachment to the UFA clean renewal that could help is mandating ATFE respond in 3 months or less. Any personnel funds requested to enable that to be solely assigned.

            Doesn’t change any requirements or “remove needed controls” simply removes the bottleneck at ATFE so can’t be called “extremist”.

            If the “trust loophole” is being closed then individuals shouldn’t be penalized by unnecessary wait times, which are denying tax revenue to the .gov.

      3. I should have clarified, the drive to legalize suppressors for hunting will help create a constituency for them politically, because you’ll need that if you ever want to deregulate them.

        1. I agree…

          However, if we’re sure this is a “must pass,” then we ought to get something out of it as is the case with ANY AND ALL gun related legislation, otherwise it’s nothing but a shit sandwich to us. However that is made clear to legislators I’m all ears.

          And actually I’m not so sure this shouldn’t be something that means something to us considering this gets down to the very essence of banning processes or procedures: they don’t work, and they are quite frankly stupid in a world of technology.

  4. The UFA had and has but one purpose; to buy comfort. It was a law that didn’t affect much of anything, but it made the plastic gun scare go away, and with it the justification for banning new technology, like the Glock. Their goal was never to ban imaginary guns, their goal was to ban the Glock. Can you imagine if they had been successful at doing that?

    The reason the UFA is very likely to get renewed is that few politicians want to face ads saying they voted for allowing guns that can evade airport metal detectors. I’d almost think you’d have an easier time getting them to vote to remove suppressors from NFA or to repeal the Hughes Amendment.

    I would love to be able to get rid of a lot of this stuff, but I also think our side needs to be careful about where we pick our battles. Expanding UFA is a battle we need to pick… we need to not lose more ground. But I’m not sure another 10 years of UFA is a battle we want to have. Perhaps Congress in its current dysfunction will just let it die. I wouldn’t complain if they did, because the law is useless. But I’m not optimistic that will be the outcome.

  5. Extending the UFA like that is bad.

    Keeping the existing one is stupid-but-mostly-harmless posturing (like Sebastian says just above), precisely because it doesn’t really ban anything practically useful, at least not yet.

    (Whether or not “making sure metal detectors can – if properly calibrated – find guns” is a sufficient justification for such a law is an interesting question, I suppose…)

  6. I guess Philadelphia is ahead of the curve with its already banning “3D printing of firearms” then eh? Cuz we all know thats going to stop all the “gun crime” in the city. =]

    Job well done Phila.

    1. I live in Philly and I’ll 3D print all the pistols I damn well feel like. Philly is preempted, and even without preemption, how on earth do they intend to enforce the “law”? Nobody is required to keep a log of printer activity for inspections as far as I know…..

  7. I would like to see this get passed, as is, for another 5 years… with a poison pill rider attached.

    I don’t think we can get national CCW reciprocity on the issue, but I think a clarification forbidding ATF’s NFA trust rule change or some minor “clean up” type stuff from the desk of Sen Ted Cruz might get through.

    1. Not enough. But while you’re talking I say get rid of the “sporting purposes” crap and ditch the LEO requirements.

  8. If we aren’t careful how much poison pill we add so it doesn’t pass, say hello to an executive order mirroring the worst proposed expansion.

    This administration has nothing to lose and with a Dem Senate has no effective counter, particularly if they pack the DC Circuit.

    If they go to an executive order and sell it via the still compliant mainstrwam media as “stopping invisible terrorist guns” we simply will not have the public support among ill-informed, non-ideological voters worried about healthcare and jobs to do crap-all about it.

    Now is not the time to push to far on this fringe and in practice irrelevent issue, our best bet is probably a clean 5 year extension.

    1. I think something like the Barasso amendment could be attached with bipartisan support.

      But nonetheless, you are correct in the sense that the administration will do what it wants. It is kind of terrifying in that the administration has demonstrated, over and over, that it can plainly ignore the law. There is no real remedy other than defunding (tried) or impeachment (won’t happen). Our allies in congress can pass all the laws they like but to a large degree it doesn’t matter.

      How many divisions does the pope have, again?

      1. The Barasso Amendment is exactly the sort of thing that, if tacked on to an otherwise clean, shorter-term (just post-Obama), renewal of the existing law, will “sell” to the divided, distracted, “generally on our side but don’t really care” mass of the electorate as “reasonable.”

        Particularly if the pitch made supporting it isn’t “SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED!!!!” but rather is tied into an issue the general public actually does care about: like NSA snooping and the privacy rights of a political minority.

        If we can tie gun owner’s practical and political privacy needs in with the current general mistrust of government then it will be the opponents who will seem “unreasonable” and can be framed as “against privacy.”

        It’s not the product, it’s the right sales pitch to the right audience.

  9. The law is obsolete now and the NRA could make this point easily. Back before 3D printer technology, when creating plastic guns required expensive equipment that was only the purview of gun manufacturers, it could be seen as a reasonable compromise, as by not having manufacturers make these guns, then they would be pretty rare for criminals to get, if available at all. But now anyone can make such a gun. So outlawing them only means law-abiding citizens won’t have them.

    The saying, “If guns are outlawed, then only the outlaws will have guns” can sound very clichéd to gun control proponents, but in this case it is very true: if plastic guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have plastic guns.

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