A winter storm forced the Senate on Monday to approve a House-passed bill extending a ban on undetectable firearms instead of voting on a stronger version.
Current law requires guns to contain enough metal to be picked up by metal detectors, and that requirement would have expired Monday night without the Senate's action.
Many Democrats wanted to go further than a simple extension. Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Progressives push for fossil subsidy repeal in spending bill Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid MORE (D-N.Y.) said last week that the House bill doesn't go far enough, and he said he would try to pass an expanded version that takes into account possible loopholes created by the advent of 3D printing.
But several senators have been unable to return to Washington due to winter storms, making it much harder to orchestrate a last-minute attempt to expand the law through a series of roll call votes. That left the upper chamber to pass a bill the House unanimously approved last week to extend the Undetectable Firearms Act for 10 years.
Schumer did try to pass the House bill with an amendment from him and other Democratic senators, but it was objected to by Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyBiden confronts sinking poll numbers Congress needs to push for more accountability in gymnasts' tragic sex abuse Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour MORE (R-Iowa.). Grassley said his opposition was based on the last-minute nature of the change that Democrats were proposing.
"Today is the day that the current plastic gun ban expires," Grassley said. "The House had already passed a 10-year extension on a bipartisan vote, and the only way to be sure that the current ban remains on the books is to pass the House bill."
Schumer accepted that reality, and agreed in his own remarks that extending the law is a step in the right direction. But he said the Senate should work quickly to update the law to close possible loopholes created by 3D printers.
He and other Democrats say 3D printing allows guns to be manufactured in a way that lets people easily remove noncritical metal parts in order to avoid detection.
"So I would hope that we can pass a bill that not only extends the current ban, but would close the loophole hat allows for the manufacturing of guns that can evade detection by simply removing a piece of metal," he said.
Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J.) was more critical of Republicans for blocking what he said would be an improvement to the law.
"Today Senate Republicans turned a blind eye to the threat from ever-improving technology that can print out a plastic gun which avoids detection," he said. "Once again, hard-line gun safety opponents stood in the way of common-sense measures to keep our families safe — refusing even to close a loophole that would prevent 3D printed guns from evading metal detectors and x-ray machines."
Even without the storm, the Senate seemed likely to simply approve the House bill given that the current ban expires Monday night, and many Democrats in the House and Senate favored a simple extension of the law over changes that might allow it to expire. Before Thanksgiving, Schumer himself pushed for a simple extension of the law, before he decided that the House extension wasn't good enough.
Last week in the House, Democrats accepted the need to pass the simple extension but also said they would work to change the law later to require all critical gun parts to contain some metal.
"While I support the reauthorization of the Undetectable Firearms Act for 10 years, a 10-year extension should not be interpreted as an agreement that the statute should remain unchanged for that entire term," said Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottPressure builds on Democratic leadership over HBCU funding Democrats hit crunch time for passing Biden agenda Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act MORE (D-Va.).
On the Senate floor Monday, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' Sunday shows preview: Bombing in Kabul delivers blow to evacuation effort; US orders strikes on ISIS-K MORE (D-Conn.) said it would be embarrassing if Congress couldn't at least extend the current ban. But he too said Congress needs to do work in the coming weeks to strengthen the ban to close the 3D printer loophole.
"This new technology that is pretty widely available already called 3D printing, has made it really easy to make firearms that comply with the existing law but are still potentially undetectable," he said.
— This story was updated at 6:12 p.m. to reflect the Senate vote.